The gift of silence in community

It is the silence that makes our words (sounds) mean something. When the words we offer come out of the deep silence of our listening, it is here that we can be assured that we are offering something and not just spouting out noises to fulfill our own needs or insecurities. How often do we really get the chance to intentionally sit in silence as a community? Very rarely, I would imagine.

Parker J. Palmer writes in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, in regards to creating what he calls “circles of trust”:

By creating moments of intentional silence, we smooth the way for spontaneous silence in a culture where the cessation of sound is taken as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

Because many people get rather uncomfortable in silence, I always invite them into silence after I set our intention of safe space, our desire to learn from each other, and give them an overview of what is coming up. Often, I begin our time together with silence as a chance to gather ourselves here, sitting with our intentions and our desires to be present. I invite the group to offer their gratitude in the silent space to each other and also to God (the Divine, the Source, etc) for the chance to be together. Here we root ourselves, not in our desire to be heard and fulfill our own needs, but to be here for each other. The silence is the buffer between what we brought with us and our movement forward together.

Coming out of the silence for me, is often difficult. As I noted in the previous post, a facilitator has to pay such strong attention to transitions. I don’t want us to simply jump from silence into “business.” In Christian circles, it is easy for me, as I simply offer a short prayer. I did this for years, and then when we started with Spiritual Integration at myc yoga, I wasn’t sure how to come out of the silence. Cross-spiritual groups are a bit trickier. Often, I will use a quote or say something about silence and the gift we offer as we intentionally engage in this as community. As I will say often, the material is only a tool. My interest is primarily on what goes on within each person in the room.

As strange as it may sound, my hope is that even as we gather in community to talk, share, laugh, cry, we might support each other in our ability to be silent, alone, and listening. This is an incredible gift we give the world. The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu says it like this:

The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. the purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.

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