Did you see The Big Silence on BBC2 (UK) last Friday? It was part 1 of 4 about a group of individuals who have signed for a 8-day silent retreat. At the end of Part 1 the clips of the next episode suggest that they didn’t find it easy. Having read, and loved, A Book of Silence, I really wanted to make time for this programme. Interesting things for me were:
Silence and spirituality
The programme was presented by an Abbot and the retreat was in a Jesuit centre. Sara Maitland, author of A Book of Silence, also comes from a Christian perspective – though her book is much wider than that. So, is needing and wanting silence part of seeking something spiritual? I know my main driver for silence is usually to develop a sense of calm and greater awareness, to ground myself. Is that spiritual? I just tried looking up ‘spiritual’ in the dictionary and I guess it could be.
Silence and escape
Recently a friend asked if I’m trying to escape ‘real-life’ because I’m choosing a different way of life. I had asked myself the same question but my answer was ‘who is escaping?’ and ‘which way of life is real-life?’ For most of the people in The Big Silence, they seemed to have a need to escape day-to-day life and ask themselves some questions. But what becomes clear is that escaping the ‘always on’ gadget/activity culture means more time to face all that stuff inside that you’ve been escaping from by being ‘always on’. Some years ago I did a silent weekend retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Hertfordshire. I found it a real challenge. From an existentialist perspective, perhaps we might say that participating in ‘real-life’ allows us to avoid facing the major questions about our existence.
Silence in public
On my silent retreat I found the biggest challenge was being silent around other people. Not being able to say ‘hello’ or hum out loud to myself in others’ presence. I know that the Quakers spend time sitting in silence together. Silence for me sits with solitude and therefore there is a sense of withdrawing, moving away from society to do that. Having said that, I’ve always felt at peace in a library but these days, they are rarely silent.
Finding time for silence
In the programme, before the group embark on their 8 days, they are tasked with finding space for silence in their normal life over the course of a week. One person manages the task. With the others I wondered how much of their busyness was necessary and how much of it was really a distraction, a defence mechanism - conscious or not. Perhaps we’ll find out as the series progresses.
So, how often do you find time for silence? Do you set out to find silence and if so, why? And what do those times give you? What is the role of silence in our lives?