Finding creativity and consolation in the world’s ‘store of silence and stillness’
My day begins in silence. I sit quietly with several hundred other people as our host welcomes us to what she calls our ‘sacred space.’
We are all over the world, all on our screens and Zoom is our cathedral.
Someone reads a short word of wisdom and people post their ‘intentions’ for the next hour and then the silence begins as the host puts everyone on mute.
But nobody is here for religion or prayer or God.
What they’ve discovered is that silence in the company of others can be a uniquely creative force.
A similar thought is behind an initiative by English Heritage, running through October.
From Battle Abbey to Lindisfarne Priory, and at fourteen other historic religious sites, they’ve introduced ‘an hour of contemplation’ at the end of each day.
Visitors are asked to turn off their phones, end their conversations and experience these ancient shelters of faith in complete quiet. Capturing something of the essence of the original monastic life.
The pandemic, say the organisers, has thrown most of us off balance, but silence can help us reset.
Stephen Fry, longtime advocate for good mental health, says these sacred places of stillness continue to provide space for contemplation and renewal.
He quotes Aelred, C12th Abbot of Rievaux Abbey in North Yorkshire, who said,
‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.’
Silence offers respite from the tumult of the world — not solutions to the frustrations and fears of the daily round, but another way of seeing them.
This is not the accidental silence that falls between two speakers in a conversation, or the silence hanging in an empty house, or the silence as we fall off to sleep at night.
This is an intentional silence — one that is actively trying to tune into our inner life, the life that is routinely lost in the noisy hustle and bustle of the everyday.
The biblical prophet Elijah, standing outside his cave, famously anticipated the divine voice in a thunderstorm or an earthquake or a fire.
Instead, to his surprise, he found it in ‘a sound of sheer silence’.
Taking part in a silent retreat a while back, the welcome note from one of the nuns read, ‘You are here to help store up the world’s collection of silence and stillness.’
While silence is known as a great resource in religious traditions, it’s an equal opportunities employer — its benefits not restricted to those who follow a way of faith.
Its properties of creativity and consolation are within reach of all of us, a renewable energy just waiting to be tapped.
From problem-solving to finding perspective, from praying… to writing your novel.
(The text of ‘Thought For The Day’ delivered on BBC Radio 4 on October 2nd)
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Previously On Thought For The Day. On Becoming Good Ancestors — and how our descendants are willing us to do the right thing.
Previously still on Thought For The Day: On ‘missing home’ and the ‘bright sadness’ of lockdown life.
And even more previously, on greeting our nearest neighbours, ‘I Can’t Speak For The Tree.’