A friend recently told us about her practice of taking an occasional day of silence; she shuts down intrusive electronics like her computer, tv, phone, and goes through the day without uttering a word. The neighbors in her smallish town know that when she wears a button saying “Honoring Silence”, they need to do just that. It is an ancient practice that can do much to restore balance in modern times. Franz Kafka described it perfectly over 100 years ago in his suprising poem, Learn To Be Quiet.
You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait,
just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
There are many places where you can do formal silent retreats, from the Chopra Center to Zen and Christian monasteries to any of these wonderful retreat centers. Or you can start right at home by clearing your calendar, alerting friends and colleagues, and having on hand readings to inspire, and perhaps a journal to write in, rocks to balance,
or, like Walt Cotten, a chair and a bottle with a big view. And then….just wait.
Silence is not necessarily easy, but for our mind, it is necessary. It can be painful even. But if you wait through the discomfort, something happens. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
And, where are you, with your ears bagged down as if with packets of sand? Listen. We all have much more listening to do. Tear the sand away. And listen. The river is singing. —Mary Oliver
With thanks to Beverly Hurwitz for sending us the poem so long ago.