I've been learning silence for over five months now. I am working to overcome the constant temptation to fill my life with the consumption or production of noise. I find I more often leave my iPod or the television off, instead of leaving one or the other on for background sound. I've taken intermittent breaks from social media. I've hardly written. I've been practicing centering prayer. I've been sitting with process. I've been letting go. So much letting go.
Richard Rohr says that even though he regularly attempts to do so, trying to talk about the letting go we do in silence and presence seems impossible because it "feels like nothing." I have to agree with him. It's like the feeling of a sigh. It's like nothing and everything. It's inexplicable and yet I want so desperately to explain it because maybe then I would have a better understanding of it.
I've only scratched the surface of what silence can teach me. I'm still unmooring, letting go of things that hinder my process. I am still on the threshold between "before" and "after," but just barely. I know what the before was like, but I'm not yet in the after. Actually, I'm not even sure there is an after. All I can sense is a before and a now.
Before I started sitting with silence, my life was all reaction. It was frantic tending of squeaky wheels or dogged avoidance of things that overwhelmed. It was ill-thought responses born from a fear of missing opportunities, not meeting expectations, or leaving things unsaid. Before this experience with stillness and silence, time meant scarcity and urgency and finitude. Before, I constantly measured myself against other people's standards and absorbed their "you should"s as judgement on my life and my performance and my self. I spent time worrying why things that worked for other people didn't seem to work for me and wondering what might be wrong with me that I couldn't keep it together or make people like what I thought or get them to agree with me. Life felt like conflict and striving and opposition much of the time.
Now, the time I spend in silence each day feels like taking a long, indulgent breath. Now, I've realized that I don't have to react to everything because it is okay to step back to formulate a response. Often I find that a response is not even necessary. Time, now, seems like an abundant gift stretching in both directions in a beautiful excess of eternity. I'm not even sure I believe in "missed opportunities" anymore; I believe in what happens. Now, I realize that it is impossible to control the way others respond or how they feel about me or if they ever agree with me. I have to follow my path because it is right for me. I can allow others to follow their path. I don't have to be in conflict or striving or opposition, because I can look for what there is to learn in the now.
I am acutely aware of how my own opinions, indignation, and expectations hinder my ability to love, understand, and be compassionate. I am realizing we are all in process. I can see that it is all grace, and that no one needs grace more than I do. Of course, awareness and realization are just the beginning and I am a long way from practicing any of this perfectly.
And yet, all of that is internal. I can't possibly prove any of it. To anyone else, it probably looks like nothing.
"With grace I am led to see that the only person I can judge, with God's help, is myself. I slowly come to understand that part of what is keeping my community from being all that it can be is my own lack of love, my own carelessness with God's love and the love and struggles of [others]. Seeing us in process and being able to value our incompleteness has been for me a great means of grace." - Macrina Wiederkehr