Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Your Friend, Silence

See how nature, trees, flowers, grass- grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence....We need silence to be able to touch souls.
-Mother Teresa

I have a pretty open-minded family. My kids will usually taste something new at least once. But I had to save one request to try something different for Mother’s Day, knowing they could not refuse. Since I am studying simplicity this month, I wanted to attend a Quaker “waiting worship”. Apparently out of the 86,000 Quakers practicing their faith in the U.S., only about 10% worship in silence. In other words, everyone sits quietly and waits to experience God’s voice within them. If someone feels led to speak, they just stand up and start talking and everyone listens as if they are hearing God speak through that person.

'Friends', as they call themselves, believe that truth is constantly being revealed to individuals through God. The majority of Quaker meetings (they are not called services) are led by someone giving a sermon with singing like any other traditional church. The silent or waiting worships are few and far between. But we found one in a house tucked in a residential neighborhood not far from ours. I was surprised that out of the 20 ‘friends’ sitting in the plain open room, I knew a few of them. There was nothing but a fireplace and chairs. No paintings. No crosses. No stained glass windows. Quakers are known for their testimony of simplicity, meaning they live a simple life and focus on only what is important. It is not just their belief, it is supposed to be their way of life. So the sparse room made sense.

We got there early because we were not sure where we were going. Before the ‘meeting’ officially started my husband was already whispering in my ear “have you seen enough?” No way. My curiosity was just getting primed. Ten minutes in, I was given another possible out. The one and only other child in the room was escorted to a playroom. Would my kids like to go? No, but we would, my husband thought. “Here’s our chance.” He whispered again. I watched the clock, waiting for the moment when my 4-year old’s patience would run out. The time never came. Hadley moved from my lap to her dad’s lap and seemed to enjoy just being held. My 13-year old, Cole, didn’t try to sneak out his iPhone. He kept his eyes closed and even let me hold his hand for part of it. There was the occasional break in silence when our stomachs grumbled or when a woman got up to explain how she doesn’t use air conditioning and that choice allows her to hear nature outside better. We could hear the birds just fine from where we were sitting. In fact, every ambient sound from the crows to a passing airplane sounded magnified. I don’t know how practiced ‘friends’ experience these meetings. Perhaps, their mind goes blank and they achieve that stillness that is so elusive for me when I meditate. Needless to say, my mind was not quiet, but it was quieter and maybe it wandered just a bit less.

When we first walked out the door, Cole likened it to detention. But later he admitted that the silence was pretty cool. I can’t recall ever sitting in silence for a full hour and certainly not in the company of others, much less my noisy brood. The few meditations I have attended have music or chanting or a guiding voice.  I can’t imagine doing this at home for a full hour when there are so many comforting distractions. But I can't imagine taking just one bite either. It was too good not to try again somewhere. Maybe outside on a quick walk. Silence really is as Thoreau describes "the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind."  

For today's "Sky's the Limit" on what you can learn: A few more quotes about silence and simplicity:
In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves. - Rumi

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth. -Leo Tolstoy

Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don;t understand it yourself.
-Albert Einstein

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