For a while now, probably four months, I have been reading about and practicing the Quaker “act” of Holding Silence. Though I am not a Quaker, I have found this to be a fantastic form of meditation, mindfulness, and a great way to calm my racing mind along with Buddhist practices.
Quakers are not just one “denomination” or “sect” but are organized into independent regional and national bodies called Yearly Meetings under different Quaker umbrella organizations like the Evangelical Friends Church International, or the Friends United Meeting which says it “unites Friends into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.” Then you have the more liberal and non-creedal Friends General Conference that is usually unprogrammed, meaning that their worship is done in silence and not lead by a pastor.
J. Brent Bill says it best in his book Holy Silence: The Gift Of Quaker Spirituality when he says “For centuries, Quakers have taught that when we are silent, God grants us insights, guidance, and spiritual understanding that is different from what we might realize in our noisy, everyday lives.” Though I do not necessarily use God-language myself, I agree with this statement because the silence, whether alone or in a group setting, allows us to think about things in a way that we normally do not. As an example, when I write these blog posts I turn off the music, I turn off the t.v. and sit in silence for a minute to think on what I want to write about. This is abnormal for me, and for many others these days, with the influx of iPods, iPads, Smartphones, and other technologies that constantly brings sound and/or video into our lives. Often I am even able to come up with a topic that I was unable to grasp for days at a time by just turning the noise off. Tonight, I even had to shut the fans off, white noise is still noise and distracts our mind.
J. Brent Bill goes on in the book to explain how Silence is the Quaker version of communion, explaining that just like ordinary bread and wine become a place for finding Jesus for some Christians, Quaker silence becomes holy silence when it is a way of experiencing the presence of God or Inner Light (which I feel more comfortable with). He even explains that there are benefits to this Silence when we are alone, with someone, or with an entire group of people. Of few of the benefits of Holding Silence include finding guidance in our daily living, enabling us to see everyday life as holy or divine, promoting self-discovery, provides inner calmness, fosters attentiveness, and he also mentions how Silence can bring a blessing to others in a time of need by allowing us to just be there with them, listening if they feel the need to talk or just sitting in silence allowing them to express emotions or explore their thoughts with a supportive friend by their side. The last one was one that I learned in class when I was considering becoming a therapist, though we often find silence awkward, it allows people to feel safe in our presence and explore their inner thoughts and emotions knowing that if need-be there is someone there for them.
I find myself embracing silence when things get hectic or stressful, or I feel myself losing control of my emotions. I find this Silence as a way to step back and view the issue at hand with clarity, rather than reacting with or from emotion, or to stop a train wreck of emotions from becoming a reality. It is a way for me to reign in my anger, my ego, and my fears, and view things realistically, rationally, and often with such clarity that I did not have before that the solution comes nearly immediately, or the problem completely disappears or is seen as a non-issue or overreaction.
Try Holding Silence. One of the suggested practices that I ran across, though I cannot recall where, was that you just set aside a moment of silence for yourself or randomly do it when you feel the need and look at the thoughts and images arising in your mind then visualize yourself putting them aside or even on a shelf in your mind. Maybe someone is sick or having issues, you could start by thinking about them with the desire that all will be well with them, and then move into Silence. Maybe you need to recall an event or encounter that has meant a lot to you; or it could be a peaceful scene you experienced in the woods or on a beach, or maybe eve a beloved painting. All of this helps you quiet your mind and enter the Silence. Often, I have to go the way of using a mantra, repeating a single word or several words, like ‘peace’ or ‘love’ or even ‘I am still and quiet’ to shut down the constant whirring of my brain. You can set aside minutes to start, then increase it; I have gotten to the point where hours of Silence are nothing and often needed!
This post is helping me lead into another post on Buddhist meditation, so Hold Silence and prepare for more me to share some more practices soon.
Peace and Silence,