Monastic Silence as the beginning of wisdom
I have spent a week mostly in silence at my Monastic hideaway in Bavaria known as St Ottilien Arch-abbey for Benedictine Missions. It is one of the largest Benedictine Abbeys in Europe. In the midst of winter it is still, quiet, and you can even hear yourself think. I chose to avoid social media this week and keep my correspondence to a bare minimum. I really have been alone with myself. Silence is cherished.
I am reading an introduction to Benedict’s Rule written by Michael Casey and David Tomlins for use in formation in Benedictine Circles. Written for the Benedictine Union of Australia and New Zealand second printing 2008, their insights into the rule are deep and refreshing. One of the main monastic principles and practices is living a life surrounded by Silence. Silence in a monastic sense is both internal and external. The Rule of Benedict dedicates various sections on the Monastic understanding of Silence.
This week, Amidst the noise of politics, near war with Iran, devastating fires in Australia, the accidental downing of a passenger plane by Iran, I am so aware of the volume of Noise we face in modern times. My long walks through rural Bavaria at the Monastery have made me realize how easily we lose our correct panoramic vision of the world and ourselves. Suddenly looking at vast sky and open fields I realize I am not the center of the Universe but a delicate part of the whole. I am so connected to everyone and everything on the planet. I am broken when the planet is broken. I am healed when the planet is healed. No wonder most of the earth that lives in an Urban setting including myself so easily forgets that deep truth.
Noise as the intrusion of calm, patience, and serenity.
Noise is not only about decibles. The noise we face in todays world is visual as much as audible. It is tactile, as much as palpable. We are so immersed in noise that we are unaware that Silence even exists. The constant barrage of images on our phones, devises, and screens. The traffic, conversations, political rhetoric, fake news, cyber bullying are also part of the daily noise that we have to put up with in todays society. This was NOT the case even 50 years ago. I remember. The only noise was radio and tv when they were turned on, and that was less frequent than today.
The Wisdom of Silence
Perhaps only Silence can be the corrective to our tunnel vision.
Silence like humility makes us less important.
Silence invites us inside ourselves, and forces us to listen to our inner thoughts.
Silence invites us to listen and not to speak.
It is very hard to speak and listen at the same time.
Silence is a great remedy for the immense suffering that we are currently bearing and may continue to bear in the world.
Moving to Silence, The five senses.
The other day I practiced a simple exercise that allows one to be silent wherever they are and at any moment. It is an exercise in the five senses.
Sitting down in a comfortable spot, with your eyes open, you begin to get in touch with your five senses, sight, taste, feel, hearing, smelling. Begin with any of the senses. What tastes are there in your mouth? Dry? Wet? What do you smell? What do you hear? Where are the sounds and smells coming from? Observe what is around you. Focus on one image for a while and observe all of its properties. What are your physical feelings in your body? What can you sense and not sense? This five senses exercise bring one immediately into the present moment and helps-one be attentive to the silence that always surround us.
The negative impressions on our lives by means of Noise in all of its multiple forms is corrected by Monastic Silence. Monastic silence is about creating new “impressions” on the soul by means of beauty, chant, nature, religious symbols or icons, space, time alone and in isolation, time eating in silence with others, time observing carefully all of our surroundings, mindfulness and attentiveness in every moment and circumstance.
We do not have to go to a Monastery to have or experience Monastic silence as much as it helps and I highly recommend regular visits to your local cloister. The practice of silence in our own surroundings is an option open to most of us. Perhaps not with the frequency that we would like. But silence is usually available to all of us at least on a daily if not various times in our daily movements and routines. Getting to the office early before others arrive. Stopping by a local church that is open to or from work. Visiting a local park or playground. The time we spend alone in our cars. Late night. Early Morning.
Going to the symphony. Finding a quiet corner to eat alone by ourselves a tasty and healthy meal. Even seeing a good movie alone that enriches the soul can be a form of silence. Listening to a talk or presentation by someone who is wise and gives good counsel or teaching. Reading a good book that is soul filled. We have at our finger tips so many options to silence where noise can be set aside and ignored for short and even longer periods of time. Of course Prayer, is sitting still before the Divine Presence. Michael Casey says that Too much speaking, (multiloqium) inner noise, in prayer prevents the experience of compunction from which contemplation is born.
Monastic silence requires discipline, time, and attention. But it is Golden. We must cut out time and space in all of our schedules for real Silence. Televisions Telephones (cel phones) and Screens (Computers) must be set aside purposefully for chosen periods of real Silence. This is not an option. Constant interruption must be halted for at least certain times in our day in order to regain our composure and return to our centers, our true selves. Active minds must also be calmed. Noise is as much internal as external. When does the internal noise stop in a days time? Even sleeping this is challenging to the modern living being.
Restraint and Moderation
Restraint and Moderation are Monastic terms not modern terms. They are far from negative or even limiting. They free us up for so many possibilities in life.
When we are not completely full but partly empty is when we begin to enjoy the sensations around us be they physical or emotional, Full means no room for anything else. Restraint and Moderation mean making enough room for God, for Grace, for Graciousness, for enjoyment. For Myself. We live in a time when moderation and restraint are almost unknown. We are used to being fulfilled and satisfied almost immediately in everything and every way. Monastic Moderation is practiced daily at the monastery. It has been said one knows a true monk by the way he or she closes a door. It has to do with the way a monk walks and gets from one place to the next unhurriedly. It is seen at meals as monks serve each other in kindness, and in gentle not harsh gestures. It is seen in simple and practical dress with no competition for the best looking Habit!
Moderation and Restraint make ROOM for Silence in our lives.
There is nothing more counter cultural than Silence.
By embracing seriously Silence in our lives we are swimming against the current and walking against the grain of most of humanity. There is nothing wrong with that. Monastic living and practices are designed to go in another direction. They are not for everyone but should be embraced at reasonable doses by more of us in order to regain our sanity and our purpose in life.
Stop…and smell the Roses.
Silence is all around us if and when we seek it out purposefully and pleasurably.
Every time I visit my Bavarian Hideaway, I am invited by this Benedictine Community to enter into Silence. To Slow down, To observe, To Listen, Taste, Touch, Smell, See. To sit quietly with myself and by myself. To renew my friendship with God. Monastic Silence IS the beginning of Wisdom and the road To true contentment.