How Silence Works …

Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston corresponded with four Trappist Monks about their efforts to “cultivate silence” within their monastic enclosure to find out just what the sound of silence actually is. Read the full post here.

Are all your actions done in total silence? How do monks coordinate work? There must be a small amount of words that are absolutely necessary to get through a day?

… No, not all work is done in silence, though we try to keep a silent atmosphere whatever we do, even common work. We talk to convey necessary information; the point is to get to the point and stick to the point and the capacity for that varies from person to person. The ideal isn’t to see who keeps the strictest silence but for all to help maintain a silent atmosphere.

This says on one level that silence is in our lives to create an ambience of recollection so I’ll remember and honor God’s presence. On another level, silence reminds me that the misuse of words, the abuse of language can also be the sinful abuse of people; silence for us means not talking, more than not making noise… On yet another level, silence means listening. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the first word of that Rule is “Listen.” That’s the great ethical element of silence: to check my words and listen to another point of view. I’ll never have any real peace should my sense of well-being depend on soundless peace. When I can learn the patience of receiving, in an unthreatened way, what I’d rather not hear, then I can have a real measure of peace in any situation …

… The first advantage contemplation and silence bring to me is the serenity, the calm and peace of mind. When there is lot of noise or movement around you, it’s tough to take notice of what you’re going through. That’s why so many people come here, to our retreat house to find silence and peace and be able to put their lives in order …

… Silence does make me aware of my inner workings, however, what we call in the monastery, “self-knowledge.” I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods. Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself.

—  Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston is a freelance writer living and working in Toronto. Originally posted on The Awl on June 1, 2012.

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