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Word for December: Silence

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men’s silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

—Wendell Berry, excerpted from “The Silence”

Advent blessings my dear dancing monks!

As we begin this holy season I wanted to invite you into the deep stillness of the heart which is the real gift of this time ahead.

Two years ago we had a photography party on the theme of “silence” and I created this video for reflection from images shared by the community (and requesting permission).

Next Sunday we will return to our Community Lectio Divina practice with the quote from Thomas Merton included in this video. For now, rest into the images and listen to your own deep longings.

Monk in the World Meditation Silence from Christine Valters Paintner on Vimeo.

We are returning to our monthly explorations of the Monk Manifesto and silence is the first principle: “I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.”

Each month for the next eight months, we will take one of the Monk Manifesto themes for the entire month and it will shape our Community Lectio DivinaPoetry Parties, Photo Parties, and Dance Parties.

The desert mothers and fathers wrote extensively about seeking interior silence.  The word they used was hesychia, which refers to a kind of deep inner stillness.  We can surround ourselves with quiet, but hesychia refers to the quiet that comes from within.
Amma Syncletica, one of the wise desert mothers, offers us this wisdom saying:

“There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in town, and they are wasting their time.  It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” (Syncletica 19)

What I love about this saying is that she very directly tells us that we do not have to wish for a life in a monastery to find silence and stillness (especially if I go there and never let go of the endless mental chatter).

To be a monk in the world means to cultivate the practice of silence in our everyday lives.  I love life in the city, I love to be able to walk and get whatever I need.  But the crowds, the traffic noise, and the occasional jackhammering can all make silence feel far away.  But if my inner life is full of judgment, or clamor, or chaos, I will never find silence, no matter where I am.  Whereas, the desert elders tell us, you can be in the midst of a sea of noise, and still cultivate inner peace.

This is where practice is essential.  Each morning I show up to my morning time of silence.  I begin with some journaling to help give the chatter in my mind a place to rest.  I engage in a time of yin yoga, which is a marvelous and deeply contemplative practice of holding asanas, or poses, for 5 minutes at a time.  In this way, I enter the stillness of the body.  I close my physical practice with a movement prayer and I seek stillness at the heart of dance. And finally I have a time of sitting in silent meditation, where I just sink into the quiet both within and without.

I find the physical element of meditation practice important.  When we meditate, we aren’t trying to transcend the body.  When I practice yoga and dance, I move energy through my body, I release patterns of holding and tightness which can just get reinforced by sitting still.  If I don’t have a movement practice before meditation, I often find my body is more restless.  If I allow it to have its natural language, then I discover the vast pool of silence right within my body.  Allowing my awareness to sink into my body cultivates more capacity for physical stillness, which is connected to the stillness of the mind.

Sometimes when we sit down to silent meditation, we feel agitated, we are restless, a list of things to do is hovering right in front of our eyes. These are the times when it is so tempting to walk away, to decide that you just aren’t in the “right space” for it and to try another time. But this is exactly when we need the commitment to notice our thoughts, and as much as possible every time they arise, breathe deeply and let them go. The whole practice may be just that. Because cultivating this capacity to be with the mental overwhelm will always bear fruit in our daily lives. We don’t wait for our life situation to be “perfect” because it never will.

Do you have a daily practice of savoring silence?

Could you pause right now, for just 5 minutes, quieting your thoughts and breathing deeply? (yes, even just 5 minutes can offer deep refreshment if you give yourself over to it)

What might you discover?

There is still time to join us for our online Advent retreat if you want the support of a structured contemplative and creative practice along with a whole community of dancing monks with whom to share your insights and struggles.

Register here: Birthing the Holy: Advent & Christmas Online Retreat with Monks, Mystics, and Archetypes

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