Last month, as we studied democracy, we turned to Bloomberg News Reporter and UUCGL member Chris Christoff for his thoughts about the intersection of church, state, and democracy. This month, we asked Chris Cleveland, Covenant Group Facilitator and Chair of Adult Religious Education, to reflect upon silence in her spiritual practice at UUCGL. The following is her essay.
My practice of silence has been a catalyst in the blossoming of my spiritual life. When I retired from teaching over eight years ago, my spiritual “bank account” was depleted. I had put most of my energy into my job and ignored many of my personal needs, especially in the spiritual realm. Upon retirement, I started searching for the “true me” by taking UU Adult Religious Education classes and craft classes, trying new physical activities, and participating in various groups. I discovered that “spirituality” was present in many of my activities, not only listening to a church service but also in skiing and even knitting. The first revelation that I experienced from many sources was the power of “being in the present.” Reading A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle helped me to begin spending more time in the present and listening to my inner voice through silence. I began searching, wanting to know deeply my true essence or soul.
My quest to know myself led me to participate in and later facilitate many covenant groups at UUCGL. During covenant group sharing, my understanding of the importance of silence changed and grew exponentially. It never ceases to amaze me how having a small group listen deeply to my intimate sharing of my deepest feelings helps me to get in touch with my authentic, inner self. In covenant groups, listeners try to put all their energy into really hearing what the speaker is saying, without judging, commenting, or advising them. The silence of mouth and mind allows an openness that helps the listener to truly sense what another is feeling. Without the distraction of others’ comments, the speaker is often able to sort out their thoughts in a way that is not possible in a typical discussion with others. Because of this format of silence, participants frequently experience “ah-ha” moments. Between speakers, members of covenant groups are usually silent for a few moments before the next speaker begins so they can honor and reflect on the words that were spoken. Over the course of time that a covenant group meets, the powerful experience of sharing and deeply listening with others often bonds participants in a way that seldom occurs in normal relationships. Covenant group “silence” provides people with an opportunity to experience their essence in a profound manner.
I have also been practicing meditation for over four years, and the stillness of my mind during meditation has improved my connection with something “greater than myself.” This practice has increased my peace of mind, my understanding of my values, and my compassion for others. Silence during meditation has enabled me to grow and change in ways that I cannot measure but truly appreciate and value.
Practicing tai chi has also helped me to utilize the practice of silence. When doing tai chi, my mind is focusing on my breathing and body movements. Utilizing mindfulness, I feel my oneness and connection with the energy and nature around me. I think healing thoughts. The mind’s single focus during tai chi keeps distracting thoughts from disturbing me, and I become more at peace.
Silence has helped me to discover many things about myself. I have learned to apply mindfulness to many aspects of my daily life. When I am cross country skiing or riding my bike on quiet country roads, I feel a powerful connection to my surroundings. If my mind starts ruminating about a problem I have, I only need to look up at the trees or sky to get back into the present moment, and immediately I feel serene and at peace.
One of my current challenges that has been helped by silence is my struggle with acceptance and surrender to what I cannot control. Changing these shortcomings is still a “work in progress,” but I believe that by listening to my inner voice or the voice of a “higher power,” I will find the strength to let go and surrender to what is happening in my life. I have experienced the power of acceptance, but it is still difficult for me to let things go. I find myself wanting to “fix” things or change them rather than accept them. I am sure that listening silently will be the key to this challenge as well.
In A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer, the author speaks about the “shy soul.” Palmer contends that it takes uninterrupted speaking by someone and silence by others to allow this shy soul to come out and really express itself. If others express their thoughts in the middle of my story, I am distracted or led down a different path, and my “soul” retreats back into hiding. The gift of deep listening is something that we can all do for others we encounter. The rewards can be tremendous, both for the listener and the speaker.
My spiritual journey is in its infancy, but I know that silence and the power of now will always be a part of it.