I heard a message in our meeting once about learning to listen to the silence. I could not make any sense of it. I left it alone.
Some weeks later, the message came back to me during meeting, and I decided to try. I listened. No one was speaking, but the room was hardly silent! I heard the chatter and calling of birds, the clatter and roar of yard work, and I heard traffic on the street and the freeway in the distance. Occasionally, someone in the room shifted or coughed. I certainly did not hear silence.
A Friend rose to speak, and I turned with some relief to the words. I was considering the message, when it struck me. As the Friend spoke, I had not been aware of the birds, nor the machines, nor the traffic. I had heard only the message. Why was that? Had the Friend’s voice drowned out the other sounds? I listened again to the ambient noise. No, they were too loud to be drowned out by a voice.
No, there was another explanation. When the Friend spoke, I listened. I focused on the message and paid no attention to the surrounding noises. Now I tried again. I gave the silence the kind of attention I gave to speech.
That was very different. The silence among us was not just absence of sound. It had a special quality. It seemed to me to have a kind of flickering sparkle to it. How silence could sparkle, I don’t know, but it did. I listened until my attention drifted. I listened again, and there it was.
Now that I have the idea, it’s easier to turn my attention away from the noises, and listen to the silence. It has different qualities different times – sparkly, or velvety, or ripply – but always it is the strong, deep silence of Friends together. I rarely hear the ambient noises any more. I’m not listening to the sounds, but to the silence. ~~~
Sasha Bley-Vroman has attended Friends meetings since her student days at Antioch College, including thirty-four years at Honolulu Friends Meeting (PacYM), where she is now a member. She has been writing for much longer than that.
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