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By Dr Ian Ellis-Jones ... Mindfulness Training
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The Practice Of Silence

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Silence is golden, according to an old aphorism. There was also a song with that title in the 1960s. I remember it well.
There are few things more important in life than learning—yes, learning—to be silent. A wise person knows when to be silent and not speak. An even wiser person knows how to practise silence.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, pictured left, wrote of there being an inward stillness:

Let us, then, labor for an inward stillness, —
An inward stillness and an inward healing;
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
In singleness of heart, that we may know
God’s will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do God’s will, and do that only!

The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of silence. Here are just a few of its verses on silence:

There was silence, and I heard a voice. Jb 4:16.

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Ec 3:7.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Hb 2:20.

Be still, and know that I am God. Ps 46:10.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord. Ze 2:13.

Those five verses on the importance of silence are just a few such verses in the Bible. There are many others. The important thing is this: there is a direct connection between the practice of silence and coming to know and experience God. Now, who or what is God? Some theological abstraction? Yes and no. For starters, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Listen to these words: ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 Jn 4:7-8). The Bible also tells us that God is Spirit, that is, the very spirit of life (Jn 4:24). Another way of understanding the spirit of life is as pure Being. All things come from the One Source of all Being. God is pure Be-ing—the self-existence and self-consciousness of life itselfand we have our be-ing-ness in God. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’ (Ac 17:28).

So, if you think that God is a giant man ‘up there’ or ‘out there’, some supra-personal Being with a face, body, arms and legs and genitalia, you are horribly mistaken. In short, God is love, life, truth and power—and the very ground of our being. The English metaphysician and judge Thomas Troward referred to God as undifferentiated Consciousness

—that is, the formeless awareness that creates by Itself and becomes that which It images Itself to be. I like that. That makes sense to me. If quantum mechanics has shown us anythingand it has shown us plenty—it has shown that consciousness or mind is fundamental, eternal and all-creative. In short, God is the one Presence and Power active in the universe and in your life right now.

Here’s an Eastern story. A king went to see his spiritual advisor and said, ‘I am very busy. In a single sentence, how can I reach union with God?’ The king’s advisor said, ‘I will give you the answer in a single word—silence.’ The king said, ‘But how do I attain silence?’ The advisor said, ‘By meditation.’ The king was puzzled. ‘And what is meditation?’ he asked. ‘Silence,’ said the advisor. 

You see, silence means going beyond words and thoughts. Silence is all about be-ing as opposed to do-ing. Silence is letting be … and letting go.

Now, here’s what I consider to be the best advice I ever heard on the subject—and, yes, it comes from Dr Norman Vincent Peale, pictured right:

Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.

That’s all you have to do. It’s that simple.

First, sit still. Let the body remain as motionless as possible. Be conscious of your breathing, and perhaps the beating of your heart. Be aware—just be aware, no more than that—of any bodily sensations, external noises, and thoughts and feelings you may experience. Whatever happens … SIT STILL. That is the only ‘doing’ thing in the whole procedure. That means not moving or making a sound. T S Eliot wrote of the ‘still centre’ or ‘still point’ where the true reality is to be found. Yes, stillness is indeed the name of the game.

Secondly, be silent. Note that word ‘be’. It is not something you do—it is the total absence of doing—but something you are. What are you? I will tell you. You are be-ing-ness itself. An inlet and an outlet of life’s self-expression, that’s what you are. Just be… and be silent. Say nothing—and that includes nothing interiorly to yourself. Silence is more than saying nothing. It means remaining as motionless and quiet as possible. Don’t try not to think (because then you will think). Simply be as still and quiet as possible–and then you will simply forget to think.

Thirdly, let composure creep over you. The most important word in this third instruction—indeed, in the whole advice—is ‘let’. It is something entirely passive. Again, it is not something that you do. It is something that happens of its own accord—as soon as you remove the barriers to its happening. Once you sit still, and are silent, composure will creep over you. Merriam-Webster defines ‘composure’ as ‘a calmness or repose especially of mind, bearing, or appearance’. Here are three other words that mean more-or-less the same thing: equanimity, serenity and imperturbability.

Sit still. Besilent. Let composure creep over you. Let this happen to and in you many times a day if necessary.

Remember—sit … be … let. It’s as simple as that.


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    • ohioman

      This article contains some good advice mixed with some dangerous ideas. It is true that God does not have a physical body, but He is a distinct spiritual being who is alive. Do not let yourself be misguided by new age nonsense. Get your advice from a conservative Catholic Priest.

      • Dr Ian Ellis-Jones ... Mindfulness Training

        Thank you for your conservative Catholic (priest’s) interpretation of the Bible. My understanding of God is different and I reject your assertion that it is New Age nonsense. All the very best!

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