One of my goals for this new year is to keep a period of silence each day. Although I have realized the value of daily silence for awhile, this year, based on my resolution to live the Chesterton Option, I want to be really intentional about keeping silence each day.
While the inspiration for daily silence has been there for a while, the real kick in the pants came when I read a blog post called something along the lines of “How to Be Smart.” (Yep, I clicked on that.) Anyways, the prescription for smartness, according to this guy, was to consume maximum amounts of information every day. He gave his daily schedule as an example. He listens to an interview of some smart person at breakfast, reads non-fiction at lunch, watches 42 minutes of smart TV at dinner, (smart TV?) then reads the news and blog posts, then reads fiction for an hour before bed. While in the car, he listens to books on tape, and spends part of his weekends watching recordings of conferences.
I read all this and thought, I’m ok with not being that smart, there’s a rose over here I would like to smell instead.
I do understand the importance of life-long learning and all that. I certainly try to spend more time reading and less time scrolling. What bugged me was the constant consumption of information that the author prescribed. To be fair, he does also recommend time for thinking, but personally, I would also like to recommend time for silence, external and internal silence.
It’s necessary. We can’t be always consuming and producing.
What Is Silence
“The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace.” – Arabian proverb
Silence is “the absence of sound or noise.”
While external noise is the more obvious culprit, if you’ve ever had an annoying pop song stuck in your head, or replayed an argument over and over in your mind, then you know all about internal noise as well. We need a break from both.
I believe that external silence can lead to internal silence, and that you can have internal silence even when surrounded by chaos. St. Catherine of Sienna, for example, spent three years alone in prayer, and this contemplative life became the base for her active apostolate. Her life was not divided into two parts, one silent and the other busy, rather, the internal stillness that she developed through external stillness stayed with her through her work.
In more practical terms, we find silence when we hit ‘pause’ in our daily busy-ness, and let go of the need to be productive or entertained. This silence gives us peace that stays with us when we go back to work.
Why Keep Silence
The most obvious reason to hit pause and find silence is to soak up your surroundings. If you’re like me, then you take the time to clean up the house and bring in some flowers, but you need to remind yourself to pause and enjoy your beautiful home, to really take it in and be grateful for it. Did you notice those gorgeous mountains this morning on your way to work? Finding silence throughout our day can help us to really appreciate the beauty and blessings around us. Both external silence (turning off the radio or the podcast) and internal silence (turning off our mental checklists) can help us to live each moment in gratitude.
Which leads us to another reason for keeping silence. We need silence to listen to God.
God speaks to us in many ways, through scripture, through our neighbor, through our passions, gifts and talents, and through the silence of our spirit.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
How can we hear this voice if we are constantly consuming information, or distracting ourselves with entertainment? By making time each day for external and internal silence, we can turn inward and converse with our God. When we do this, silence is not empty. We do not just have to be with ourselves, alone. We are with God, which is where we were made to be.
Aaaaand if you would like some science to convince you to start keeping silence every day, here are some studies that suggest that silence eases stress, replenishes mental resources, and possibly even regenerates brain cells.
How to Keep Silence
Keeping silence each day may come easier to some than others, and our situations certainly have an effect on this. A single person who lives alone may have more silence than she wants. It is up to her to embrace periods of that silence instead of filling every lonely moment with music and shows. A mother of several young children, on the other hand, may feel that aside from the precious few hours when she sleeps, silence could only ever be realized in a pleasant dream.
No matter our situations, I believe that each of us can find some small period of time each day to be intentionally silent. It could be for 5 minutes or an hour, whatever we are able to keep. We can schedule it, or just grab it when it comes our way.
Here are some tips for keeping silence:
- Don’t always look for entertainment. When you find those “in between” moments, don’t immediately reach for your phone. Take advantage of the time waiting in line or at the bus stop, and be silent. Resist the urge to fill each moment. Sometimes our guardian angel sends us moments of silence, and we just need to notice and accept them.
- Drive in silence. Maybe not every time, but sometimes. I got myself out of the habit of keeping the radio on in my car, so that I can choose intentionally if I want silence or music. It was hard at first, but now I love it. When I do listen to music, I let it add to the beauty of my drive instead of just acting as background noise. And instead of endlessly switching stations when I can’t find anything good, I just turn it off and enjoy the silence. (My free trial of Audible let me pick a few good audio-books, and I do love these for long drives.)
- Work in silence. Sometimes I look for podcasts to listen to while I work, but I have listened to some pretty pointless podcasts just because I wanted something to entertain myself. Now I find that work can be a wonderful time for silence. I offer it to God and tryyyyy to meditate on Mary, whose daily chores were so holy. If there’s a really great podcast, I’ll listen to it, or if I’m feeling some Buena Vista Social Club, but again, I like these to be the fun exceptions and not the automatic, robotic, rule.
- Make meal times just meal times. If you eat together as a family, this is not so much a time for silence as for being present to each other. But if you are eating alone, try not to check your email or watch a show at the same time. Just enjoy your meal, and the silence, and perhaps the view.
- Go for a walk. If possible, through the woods or sagebrush. Whether by yourself or as a family, there is nothing like the silence of nature to still your soul.
- Pray. Interior silence is the most difficult for me. Even on a gorgeous hike through snowy woods (does it get more silent than that?) my mind is typically racing and planning and overthinking and stealing my happiness. If I really can’t get something off of my mind, I try to lift it to God and then thank Him for His blessings. Other times I sloooowly pray the rosary, or the Memorare, or the Daily Offering. The key word here is “slowly,” because I’m not trying to just get it done, but to use the words to bring my mind back to reality, to where God is.
I hope this post helps you make time for keeping silence every day, whether alone or as a family. And I hope you can help me! Let me know in the comments what silence gives you and your family. Share some tips, too.
P.S. I made a little challenge for myself to keep on track of some of these habits I’m working on, especially keeping silence. I broke it down into daily bits so I could share it with you! Here it is if you’d like to join me.