I'm spending a few days in Amsterdam on holiday, with no particular itinerary. So I think I'm going to treat it like a mini-retreat and do some reflective work I've been meaning to do for awhile.
I recently read Robert Lawrence Smith's sweet little book A Quaker Book of Wisdom. The book reminded me of the basic values of the Quaker faith, some of which I haven't really thought about in relationship to my own life in a long time. So for the next few days I'm going to write about the different Quaker principles that Smith outlines in his book and consider how well I embody those principles, or fall short.
The values Smith writes about are:
- and Family
For this first installment, I'm going to consider the Quaker value of Silence…
When I go to the weekly Meeting for Worship in downtown Brooklyn, I walk into a room brimming with silence. It's like a palpable force that almost immediately slows my pace, calms my breathing, and relaxes me. For the next 60 minutes, I sink into the silent gathering, quieting my inner thoughts and feelings, taking in the faces of Friends and visitors all around me.
To Quakers, silence is not just the absence of sound. It's creating a space in your life for the divine to enter, an expectant listening for that "still small voice." It's an active silence, one that often leaves me exhilarated at the end of a Meeting for Worship.
As the hour inevitably ends, we break the silence by exchanging handshakes with those around us.
Stepping out onto the busy Adams Street that faces our meetinghouse, I am reminded about how precious silence is. Traffic, sirens, shouting, laughter, the bass thump of a stereo are just the obvious sources of noise around me.
At home, I fill my time with noisy pursuits, watching television, listening to music and the radio, consuming all manner of online content. At almost no point am I simply still, calm, waiting, quiet.
At work, our office is always abuzz with teenagers coming and going, an endless parade of meetings, various technologies being employed — Skype conference calls, YouTube videos, online games. It's creative cacophony with a purpose.
Interestingly, one of my most contemplative, quiet moments of my day is during my bike commute. All around is traffic din, but I find that the act of biking is in some ways calming and even meditative. I often find greater clarity and perspective about problems I face during the day during my bike ride.
The physical act of biking focuses my body's energy, but leaves a lot of my mind free to wander and play.
I do wish that I was able to discipline myself to incorporate more periods of silence into my daily life. Particularly in the period before bedtime and during other "downtime" periods of the day. Instead I try and fill all those spaces with media and action, rather than slowing down and allowing my mind and spirit to open, to welcome in the silence.
I'm working on it.