During a stay at the Ragdale Foundation a few years back, one of the residents kept a weekly day of silence. From the moment she awoke until the moment she went to sleep, she didn’t speak. Not a word. She carried a pad and pencil in case something crucial needed communicating, but other than that she merely nodded, and was a silent, though involved, presence at dinner as the rest of us talked shop. It intrigued me no end. What would it be like not to talk for an entire day? Could I manage it?
Not infrequently, I retreat into silence at the end of yoga class when the students chant Om, shifting from participant to active listener. It’s a gift I give myself to relax, to step back and enjoy the sounds of so many different voices blending together and washing over me. Sometimes a peevish little voice within chastises, “Well if everyone stayed silent, what then?” What then, indeed. I suppose we’d all just enjoy a few moments of shared silence.
One of my teachers goes on silent retreats every now and then, sometimes for a weekend, sometimes for an entire week. She said that the weeklong retreat was quite upsetting for the first day or so. Then she settled into the experience and began to enjoy this different state of being. Silent orders are not unknown in the Christian world, but it’s never been an institutionalized goal in Jewish life. Can you imagine a group of Jews coming together for a weekend and not saying a word to each other? Like what’s the point? Makes me giggle just to imagine it.
But Judaism does weigh in on the benefit of silence. Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) has a teaching: I have been raised among the wise and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. Interesting that silence is good for the body. I would have thought soul; another commentator explains, In matters which concern the soul, such as learning Torah (Bible) and praying, speech is very beneficial. So how does silence benefit the body?
I hadn’t planned on getting so philosophical when I began, but I’ll take a stab at it. We are so busy walking and talking, shopping and talking, eating and talking. And in my case, sleeping and talking as well. Perhaps silence is good for the body because it offers us an opportunity to acknowledge this miraculous creation for what it truly is. Perhaps in silence we remember how incredible our bodies are, going about their business silently (most of the time) distributing blood, oxygen, nourishment, carrying away garbage, fighting disease, transmitting instantaneous electrical impulses from one end to the other. Yes, there are times, way too many times it is beginning to seem, that these internal communications break down. Maybe silence is simply good for the body because in silence a usually active part of us is at rest.
As for a day of silence. I just might give it a whirl. I’ll tell you all about it.
Have you seen the film “Into Great Silence”? It’s a documentary about a group of monks who follow this regimen and the reviews were awesome. It’s in my Netflix queue but I have not watched it yet – maybe we should see it together sometime!
Let’s do it!
I love this topic. Years ago during Lenten season at our church, we organized a silent meditation service. It was not easy to sit still for a full hour in a dark sanctuary. Later, I attended a retreat at Manresa in which attendees had to be silent all day. It’s amazing how difficult this is, but rewarding. Quieting “monkey mind” is never easy.
The lesson from all of this? Well, I am the sort of person who keeps moving, and tends to fill gaps in conversation with constant chatter. Practicing silence always reminds me that sometimes it is best to say nothing; to be still. Busy isn’t always better.
Ah that monkey mind. Sometimes I think mine’s a gorilla!
I have found as I’ve gotten older, I like silence more. A friend recently asked me what I listen to in the car, and I automatically responded “Nothing.” She looked at me like something was wrong with me, and it gave me pause to think and wonder if there is! I did come to the conclusion that I still am mentally OK, and then realize that I enjoy the quiet. Of course I focus on my driving and the crazy drivers around me, but it also allows me to think my own thoughts, or not, and just soak in the peace of quiet. I like to see the things going by, whether nature or shops, or the dwellings of others and not be distracted by noise around me.
Yes, silence is a gift to my body(mind) and my soul.
(One big factor of loving silence: I live with a man that talks ALL of the time!:-)
There is nothing wrong with you. I could eat quiet like pie. And I also live with a beloved hubby who is quite loquacious! And can watch TV and read at the same time.
What a wonderful, reflective article, Debra, with wonderful comments! Because I live alone, silence is a “companion” that I enjoy, but I have never put it into a practice for an entire day… now I think I will!
Can’t wait to read your blog post about your experience!
Thank you, Linda. Now that I’ve “spoken up” I have to made good on the idea of
As a speech-language therapist working with deaf children, I cultivated my sign language skills by attending silent retreats with other hearing and deaf people. The absence of verbal sound awakened other sensory perception and an appreciation for all that can occur in silence!
That sounds amazing.
Although I have never spent an entire day in silence, I find I usually enjoy a few hours each day in silence. I remember years ago when my three teenagers awoke or returned from school we had “competing stereos and/or radios” blaring. My daughter asked me one evening “what do you listen to when we are at school?” “NOTHING” I emphatically replied! I find now, that no matter how much I love having all my kids home, or houseguests, or any large family gatherings, I must escape for some part of each day to a period of silence- simply to rejuvenate my body & soul- lest I become terribly cranky and unpleasant to be around! A week?- I don’t know- but a few hours? Definitely!