I am back from summer holidays and getting into the workaday routines.
In university-land here in the UK we are preparing for the new academic year that begins in a few weeks.
It feels like a ‘new year’ is about to dawn. Soon the campus will be full of an extra 10,000 people. Each day will be full of new encounters and new relationships. The ‘buzz’ will be deafening. So, I am going to use September to look for the moments of silence in my everyday life.
It is a good way of preparing, because in my Christian tradition silence has many meanings. Silence is itself a form of prayer, and it can be cultivated in meditation. Silence is almost interchangeable with solitude. There is the idea of listening to the silence around us so we can notice the noise or silence within us. This kind of inner silence can be the place from which we meet and listen deeply to others. And silence is the very presence of God.
Today I had an unexpected gift of a free hour in the delightful RCA cafe down at the Battersea campus. A chance to finish my ‘Silence in September Blog Project’.
Looking back over the month, the first ten days of Silence in September was like being on a retreat in daily life. Silence allows a greater personal awareness and an intention to actions. Together this gives ordinary everyday actions, like washing up or walking down the street, a particular quality. I might call it being ‘present to oneself’.
Then, as expected, the family party and weekend guests changed the routines of daily life for over a week. So the third week was an experience of ‘restarting my prayer and meditation life’. The silence was there as an invitation – not as something I had created myself.
Then the move of the Chaplaincy Centre to new premises, followed by the start of term, demanded a complete shift into action and doing mode. There was packing, unpacking, and a long list of practical issues to do with our new building. We were working to get the new Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre open to welcome groups and individuals. At the same time doing all the start of year welcome events.
Amidst all this activity silence returned in a new form. It came from my new colleagues Karuna and Hogetsu. Both follow Buddhist meditation practices. From our different meditation (for me prayer) traditions we have a meeting place in silence. So began the habit of using ten minute silences during our working day. So, for me as a Christian, it feels like the monastic pattern of silence at the start of the day, at lunchtime and at the end of the working day. The daily tasks and irregular working patterns constantly disrupt the pattern – but that is OK, the silence is always there, always an invitation, always a gift. Silence is for life, not just September.
A conversation at the European Chaplains’ Conference sent me back to reading RS Thomas the Welsh poet and Anglican priest. Here is one of his poems that caught my eye during this month of seeking silence in daily life.
(The blog program wont let me use tabs and spacings to give the original line layout – which has some unusual gaps – hints at silence maybe?)
The Presence by RS Thomas
I pray and incur
silence.Some take that silence
I feel the power
by the sleeve,nudging
towards the long shelf
that has the book on it I will take down
and read and find the antidote
to an ailment.
I know its ways with me ;
how it enters my life,
is present rather
before I perceive it, sunlight quivering
on a bare wall.
Is it consciousness trying
to get through ?
Am I under
It takes me seconds
to focus, by which time
it has shifted its gaze,
looking a little to one
side, as though I were not here.
It has the universe
to be abroad in.
There is nothing I can do
but fill myself with my own
silence, hoping it will approach
like a wild creature to drink
there, or perhaps like Narcissus
to linger a moment over its transparent face.
This month I want to listen out for the everyday silences in my life.
I want to see where I can find the silences that already exist. I am not going to be extra silent or give up talking or seeing people. It is about seeking what is already here but overlooked (or rather unheard!).September is a great month for me to seek ‘everyday silence’. It is not going to be a quiet month. In two weeks the Chaplaincy Centre is moving to a new site in College – so I have meetings with the project manager, the contractor, and the removers. The university is gearing up for the new academic year and so I will also be doing the annual rounds of ‘welcome’ talks to new students.
My life seems to have little space for silence. I live in the center of a huge city full of noise and activity. Talking and sharing are vital to me and my partner, and our children. I have job that is about communication and conversation. So, while affirming all of these good things, can I start to notice the silence around me?
Are there any times of silence that I have not noticed before?
Is there any silence, or just moments with less noise?
What is the connection between inner personal silence and the noises or silences around me?
Does silence help with conversation and relationships?
I welcome comments about how and where you find silence in your life and what it means for you.
Posts and tweets (@awillson1) to follow.