Silence and Discovery   Leave a comment

My wife has a designated daily mid-afternoon contemplation period at 2:00 pm.  “I made a commitment,” she reminded me again this morning, when we were planning the day and I sweetly noted that her set time conflicted with other tasks that needed doing. While another time would probably serve her better (read “be less inconvenient for the people who live with her”!), I respected her response, because I know how precious an established positive habit is in transforming my own life.

One of the first discoveries almost anyone makes who sets out on a path of spiritual exploration is the apparent initial state of our individual inner worlds.  If you make room for some down-time to relax and grab your recommended minimum daily requirement of silence and commune with yourself, you frequently get brought up short:

After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored.  This teaches us one very useful thing.  It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored [with us]! (68)

These words* by Orthodox Christian monk, bishop, writer and spiritual director Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) strike home, for me at least.  While boredom is a particularly American problem, it’s not unique to us.  Others know it, but with our incessant desire for entertainment and stimulation, to be bored is the prime cause that drives us toward whatever is new.  Even information about recent events we don’t yet know about, information which in a different world might actually be more useful to us, is called simply “news.”  “What’s new?” we ask.  Think about what really is “new.”  Are you finding it at 6:00 pm nightly on your media source of choice?

Bloom continues his examination of boredom and the challenges of “inwardness” and stillness:

Why is this so?  It is because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life.  If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement.  In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction.  Something happens and we respond, someone speaks and we answer.  But when we are left without anything that stimulates us to think, speak or act, we realize that there is very little in us that will prompt us to action in any direction at all.  This is really a very dramatic discovery.  We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things.  How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves. (68)

Bloom doesn’t exaggerate about that emptiness in us, and yet of course there are indeed wonderful riches inside us all, just as we suspected.  The difficulty I face in accessing them measures out for me how outward-directed I have become.  How much I have to dig to regain one darkly shining edge of those inner worlds shows me where I have work cut out for me.  (And that itself has become one of my spiritual exercises, rather than wasting time feeling guilty or making unlikely resolutions to do better.  When you can’t do anything else, do laundry, or dishes. You’ll get something done that needs doing, ground yourself with a physical act, feel better about how you spent your minutes, and even carve out another space where you realize you can be both meditative and “productive” at the same time.)

As with so many things, balance is priceless.  For everything else there may not necessarily be a spiritual MasterCard at hand, but you get the idea.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here, among others), the challenge of becoming cause in our lives, of living consciously and with intention, is a prime Druid discipline, as it is in almost every spiritual tradition in some form.

Bloom points out an opposite trap we can also fall into.  Now that you’ve given yourself the delicious gift of downtime and reflection or meditation or contemplation, whatever you prefer to name it, “you will not be pulled out of it by the telephone, by a knock on the door, or by a sudden upsurge of energy that prompts you to do at once what you have left undone for the past ten years.”  And you make another find, when “you discover that the world does not falter and that the whole world — if you can imagine it — can wait for five minutes while you are not busy with it.  This is important, because we usually deceive ourselves, saying, ‘Well, I must do it: it is charity, it is duty, I cannot leave it undone.’  You can, because in moments of sheer laziness you will leave it undone for much longer than the five minutes you have chosen” (86-87).

Then at length the gifts of silence and inner discovery begin to open up.  But the less I say about them here, the better.  You already know what they are, from those rare precious moments when they already manifested to you.  What is fleeting can eventually become an atmosphere that accompanies you and cloaks you.  Such deep silence rings with a powerful intensity.  If you’re fortunate, you’ve met someone who radiates this as a living presence.  As the Bhagavad Gita says, “Even a little practice will free you …”

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*Bloom, Anthony.  Beginning to Pray.  Ramsey, NJ:  Paulist Press, 1970.

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Updated 4:31 pm 7/24/12

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