Being still

“Physically sitting down and being still is the most practical way of becoming present to who and where we are.” (David Runcorn in The Language of Tears, p.63)

In a conversation at the dinner table with friends and family, the topic of silence emerged. Is silence about avoidance or is it about allowing space for deeper questions to emerge and be engaged with?

I can’t remember the exact quote, but in her book The Art of Lent Sister Wendy Beckett, who is well acquainted with the practice of silence and solitude, mentions something about how, in a very busy world, silence can give us back the gift of time. If you decide to be silent for even just ten minutes, and give yourself nothing else to do in that time (it’s only ten minutes after all), the time may appear to pass more slowly. Which, if you’re inclined to rush, can turn out to be a joy. My experience is that, if you practise it enough, this turns out to be a gift; a kind of restfulness that perhaps we could all use from time to time, at least?

In the past I have used the beautiful Spiegel im Spiegel (“Mirror in the mirror”) by the Estonian monk and composer Arvo Pärt to encourage people to engage with this. The music lasts less than ten minutes, but very little really happens in it. The way it works means that you can end up spending the whole time trying to guess when the music will end. But when I’ve used it to aid stillness and meditation, I have encouraged people to rest in the knowledge that this will be only 10 minutes of their time, and just to be present with whatever their current reality is. I’m so used to using this music for meditation that when to my delight it came on in Alexa’s “classical yoga” playlist that my sister in law enjoys, I slipped into stillness straight away.

I particularly like the honesty and vulnerability of Daniel Hope’s recording, which you can hear here:

Once a month, we share quiet days at our home with people wanting to engage with silence for a half or a whole day. This practice helps me to rediscover gentleness, hope, creativity and also to find that often I have more choices before me than I thought.

As I write this, the Christian community that I belong to, “Contemplative Fire”, are finishing up their annual community weekend. I have been praying for love, grace and joy to emerge among them. If you want to find out more visit our website (or search for us on Facebook):

https://contemplativefire.org/

If there’s one thing that I want to do on my travels, it is to be truly present wherever I am, so I don’t miss the gift of each moment. So this morning I am practising being still. Stillness can be like a cup of cold water on a very hot day.

7 thoughts on “Being still

  1. Loved this Ali. Thanks for keeping in touch this way. My initial thought re silence was that I thought I might literally go mad if I could not find any silence in life. A helpful but difficult book I have read recently is by the Anglican Solitary, Maggie Ross, entitled ‘Silence: A User’s Guide’. In this she writes that there is no such thing as complete silence: ‘The universe hums in B flat. The sea rustles and slaps and roars. The forest murmurs and sighs. There are places in Alaska so silent that you think you have gone deaf, but even there it is impossible to escape the rushing sound of blood in the ear’. I like the idea that the universe is humming!

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    1. I love that! Thanks for sharing Paul. You have to see the documentary film “In pursuit of silence”. I’m sure you’d love it. It shows people from various cultures who for different reasons are pursuing silence in very different ways. The visuals are stunning inc some awesome landscapes, and the technique they’ve used for enabling the people to be listened to is beautiful. Also the sparse music that accompanies it is exquisite and totally unobtrusive. The experience of watching the film is like a meditation in itself. For each landscape/environment, they display the decibels in the bottom corner. I inadvertently ordered an American format dvd of it which I’ve given to my brother… might have to watch it again while I’m here!

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      1. Watched ‘In Pursuit of Silence’ the other night. Great film. It’s made me more aware of the constant noise we live in. Longing for deep silence. But the bigger problem for me is all the internal noise! Go well. X Paul

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      2. Brilliant. Yes, bring on the deep silence. It’s a constant draw for me too. Amid internal noise, yes. Internal noise seems to be quieter for me on this trip most of the time. One of the things that is making it such a gift. Stay well, as Liz taught me to respond to “go well” 😊💕

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