How often do you spend time in silence? 2


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?


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2 thoughts on “How often do you spend time in silence?

  • Pauline Esson

    Oh wow. So many good questions. Thank you.
    I’ll enjoy an afternoon mulling on them further.

    I’ve found silence to be essential for my wellbeing.

    I’m living with friends temporarily at the moment and have almost zero privacy and silence. Chatter, tv, music….always on.

    I’ve always enjoyed lots of silence, sometimes to think and sometimes just because my mind needs rest, time when there’s no work to be done.

    I found myself going out in the car this week just to get some quiet.

    And on the other hand, in the past, on a spiritual course with William Bloom, I’ve managed to hold the connection to myself (and spiritual connection) whilst others deliberately distracted and shouted for attention.
    The agreement was clear there though and there was nothing other than the exercise requiring my attention.

    Thanks again for the questions Alison, something substantial to give my attention to.

  • Alison Clayton-Smith Post author

    Good to hear your thoughts. Sometimes I find when I’m around others it is easier to be in silence than at other times. I suspect this reflects how I’m feeling in myself at the time, e.g. how much coffee I’ve had, boredom, etc. It is an interesting concept – being in silence (as a state) when in fact the external world isn’t silent.