The Importance of Shared Silence

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 7:33 am

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.

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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.

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