I spend quite a lot of time thinking about the way that monastic and religious orders, order their lives. I can see great wisdom in the concept of ordering the day around non negotiable times of spiritual activity, and I have been working for some time to try and order my own life similarly.
One aspect I have thought quite a bit about, and found most difficult to implement is the concept of silence. In a monastery, the ‘great silence’ or ‘big silence’ is (depending upon the way of the particular order in question) between Compline (roughly 9pm) and Terce (9am) so for half the day there is a silence, punctuated only by times of prayer.
The silence represents not so much the absence of sound, but the absence of interpersonal communication. The idea is that this time is reserved for meditation, prayer, reflection, and of course sleep where you can get it.
But how do you attempt to implement something like this when you are not in a monastery? In my house, silence between 7am and 9am for instance is not a possibility, nor is it possible between 9pm and 11pm most nights. I get away with the rest because either I, or everyone else is probably asleep for most of it.
However, on reflection I have been wondering if a suitable solution may not be found in digital silence.
I already practise digital silence – apart from the occasional abberation – during the weekend, surely it couldnt be too hard for me to practise it between 9pm and 9am, or possibly 9.30 to 9.30 too? As I usually work up to about 10pm, this will hack an hour or two off my computer working time, but I sure I could claw that back by less reading of online newspapers and other blogs – perhaps my blog feeds will take a bit of a cut to acheive this.
I know that once my computer is on in the morning, the chances of me taking time out to meditate are gone, I have to do it before I download my email or else I am too distracted. If I miss an early morning meditation slot, then in ordinary circumstances my chances of making space in the morning are slim.
Anyway, just thinking out loud really – in the spirit of looking at computer use as digital communication. I am planning to implement this from next week, and I’ll let you know how I get along.
I watched the second episode of BBC’s The Big Silence on iPlayer yesterday, I was really impressed by the programme, there was depth to it but no mawkishness, a fascinating, entertaining and well captured study of regular people encountering something which goes beyond themselves. I really reccomend you watch it, very good stuff indeed.It honestly is not boring – I know I like boring stuff, but this isnt it!
The focus on the great spiritual value of silence reminds me of something Thomas Merton wrote, which seems truer than ever:
“It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard.” (Thoughts in Solitude, p91).
I gave a short talk on Sunday, about meditation. It was supposed to be a practical and encouraging talk for those who might be interested in engaging in meditation as a spiritual discipline, but dont know how to get started.
I ran through a brief outline of some techniques, and explained some of the thinking and spirituality behind meditation in the Christian tradition, and briefly mentioned afterwards that I was thinking of running a group for those who are interested in practising meditation.
I was amazed by the amount of people who came to say they wanted to be part of the group – genuinely amazed!
Then today I watched the iplayer recording of The Big Silence – a new programme in which Abbot Jamison of Worth Abbey takes a group of ordinary people and introduces them to the discipline of Silence, and I began to be reminded that there are lots of people who really want to engage in this kind of spirituality. So I am going to push ahead with offering some free courses, if you are in Grimsby or North East Lincolnshire and want to join a group practising Christian meditation – let me know.