As many of us have been learning and working at home this week, Dan, our Primary School Counsellor, reflects on how we can use silence to our benefit.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence
- The Desiderata
Whilst its author remains unknown, the anonymous wisdom of the Desiderata, believed by some to have been found on a tombstone in the late seventeenth century, contains some of the wisest advice for those wishing to live a life full of direction, meaning and ultimate belonging. Although only a fraction of an unusual and mysterious document, the quote above aims at the heart of the author’s teaching; The deliberate (temporary) detachment into silence from the confusion, excitement, noise and activity of human society. Many things attract our precious attention, especially right now, but few are truly worthy of our time. Even fewer things fulfil the substantial and deeper existential needs of ourselves and others.
A cultivated environment of silence helps our worries run a natural course, balances our biosocial and diurnal rhythms and increases our capacity for curious, creative and ordinary engagement in the world. By deliberately toning down stimuli and responses, the mind and body have an opportunity to rest and recuperate. A running chance to recover from the neurological, cognitive and emotional demands of a hyper-frenetic world. We are more able in silence to experience our five senses; See the garden’s greenery, hear the liveliness of birdsong, the touch of cold surfaces, the smell and taste of life. These moments are deeply recovering of the integrity of our underlying human spirit.
Silence makes space for an authentic and healthy ‘breaking of the heart’, a much underrated and natural movement of life. In silence we are more able to rake over the social and psychological constructs of our life as we ‘knew’ it, in preparation for the breakthrough of internal or external experiences that might just change the course of our lives and the lives of others. Silence opens the door to a dimension of experiencing before it is further cooked up into thought (with all its social and familial conditioning). In this way, to read the daily newspaper (online even) can be a spiritual practice if from a space of internal silence.
Silence and seclusion is purposeful, providing new impetus for one’s curiosity about the world around us. In intentional silence, we grow in our capacity for ‘taitoku’, or ‘body knowing’, a wider and more relaxed experience of the world through one’s whole body-mind. It provides us with knowledge that ‘sticks to our ribs’ and leads to a depth and durability of peace behind the activity of a busy mind.
The late Shunryu Suzuki, a wonderful and practical teacher of Zen, once said that a committed practice of silence makes us more sensitive to the suffering of others - we may initially feel more pain than we did before. But with regular practice, we cultivate the inner strength to enter into pain skilfully and to take care only where we truly need to.
Develop a spirit of quiet in all your interactions and when alone.
The thought for the day is a short reflective writing relevant to the art of suffering well (enough) in difficult times, for parents and staff of Alice Smith. If it offers comfort amidst adversity, read the text and call it to mind when you need it (even if just a short phrase from the larger text), allowing it to soak into the marrow of your bones and merge with your breath. Remember, we are all in this together...
Take good care, Dan