The Importance of Shared Silence

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 7:33am

The Importance of Shared Silence

Here's a lovely meditation on silence by Gunilla Norris. I find it compelling because it names the importance of both personal and shared silence:

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.

In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.

The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
"Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children's children.
Let us practice for life's sake."

"Shared silence is...a political act," Norris writes. That may seem like an odd claim, but in my experience it is profoundly true. Shared silence is at the heart of the Quaker tradition, of which I'm a part. For centuries Quakers — though few in number — have been disproportionately represented in movements for peace, truth, and justice that have had political impact.

Norris pinpoints the reason why. Silence "brings us back to basics, to our senses, to ourselves." In the silence, we have a chance to get re-grounded in fundamental human values, and "the lives of others are touched and influenced" in ways large and small.

I invite you to spend some time meditating on the words above, and — if you don't already do so — practicing silence alone and with others. I think you will find it revealing and rewarding.

P.S. In my latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, there's a section on silence, solitude, and the practice of "getting the news from within" which resonates with Norris's meditation.

Share Post

Shortened URL


Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you

Wonderful piece. Thank you.
What is the source for the Gunilla Norris quote?
Carol Horton

Thanks, Carol. The quote is from her book, "Inviting Silence." If you click on Gunilla's name in the post, you'll see that book displayed in the collection posted on her website. She's a wonderful writer.

It's from her wonderful book INVITING SILENCE.


Thanks, Carol. The Gunilla Norris quote in this post is from her book, "Inviting Silence," which you'll find at . She's a wonderful writer!

My experience is that the quality of what we encounter in the silence is directly proportional to the quality of our actions, speech and thoughts.

If we think that we can act, speak and think poorly and still find quality in the silence, we are very likely wrong. What will then speak from the silence will not be peace, truth or justice, but something else.

> When we experience that silence, we remember who we are: …created from silence.

"And God said: Let there be light. And there was light."

Dear Parker,
I thank you for your very special invitation to practice silence alone and with others.
To have been gifted this morning with your chosen meditation by Gunilla Norris on this cold Winter day,
I know will bear fruit throughout my day.
I love the phrase: Music of Silence.
The words of your column this week are so very timely for me indeed.
You call us to the practice of " getting the news from within",
and I feel so encouraged and supported to spend much time this winter ,following the call to write a little book.
With much gratitude for all you and others share on Krista Tippet,s: On Being.

Gunilla's meditation is from her wonderful book INVITING SILENCE.

Human animation so often sources from the ego. Silence from the sacred soul. And entropy eventually showing us the difference.


My little prayer book("Venite", by Robert Benson )suggests that today is the day to remember George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends. This is the perfect meditation for that. Thank you for sharing it.

Thank you for this deep reflection. Only yesterday I visited the official Quaker Website from Germany and learned about their silent meetings.I didn't know much about it before. I thought, this would be the right thing for me. I wish there would be meetings not so far from my place. I'm practicing contemplation for about a year. I believe the active practice of silence becomes more and more important.
It is my way of praying in the face of this world: so hurt and chaotic and still beautiful.

Friend, speaks, my mind.

"How long do Quakers sit there just saying nothing?" asks my granddaughter. "Fifteen minutes? A half hour?"
"An hour."
"An hour ! ! Ridiculous ! "
"Well, sometimes they have something to say."
"Then say it and get it over with."

Good advice from a doer. She always takes over and directs the way things should go.

Maybe 'silence' is not the best word for what we do. It's a word that was often used
by one of my grade school teachers, spoken with authority, and it doesn't mean the same thing
for me that it does for others.

Perhaps "stillness" would do. Quakers (and lots of others) sit in stillness, and "get the news from
within." Then the kids from first day school come in and give us a lot of news from without.
Works pretty well.

Cliff Pfeil

Maya Angelou quote 'solitude can be a much-to-be -desired condition ' This is on my favorite salvation army coffee cup.

I love this -

e.e. cummings spells out his secret slowly and intriguingly : "nothing can surpass the mystery of stillness." In its silence, this poem has never stopped speaking to me.

Wonderful....... There is so little silence in our lives today, learn to cherish it.

Thank you for these wise words. As a Quaker, I appreciate your sharing the practice of silence with a greater audience. Yesterday I did a workshop for 20 teachers in Oroville, CA. I brought my favorite books on education and laid them out, including "The Courage to Teach." One of the teachers came over to me at the break, clutching your book to her heart, and said, "Thank you for honoring this book, which challenged me to the core and changed my approach to teaching. I tried to get my faculty to read it, but they didn't respond." I encouraged her to try again. Your ripple continues.