I am learning to be quiet. Well, I’m working on learning to be quiet. Actually I’m trying to slow down enough to work on learning to be quiet.
Let’s start this again.
Through a string of interesting connections and coincidences (if you believe in coincidences), the small tower of books that lives on our coffee table lately has been constructed out of a fair number of books by and about Quakers (The Society of Friends) and Buddhists—seemingly two completely different spiritual journeys which, on further glance, have much more in common than I would have ever guessed.
Up until a few months ago, I knew practically nothing about either of those paths—which is always fun for me, to start learning about something pretty much from scratch, with no real understanding or strongly-held convictions. It’s great, because when you start from ground zero, your ego really has nothing to lose, so you’re just open to learning. And one of the enticing things I’ve found in both of these spiritual paths is their deep belief that, aside from anything else, spending time learning to be quiet is crucial to understanding both yourself and the world around you—which are inextricably interconnected.
Now, I’m really great at being silent–not making any noise. I can read and/or write for hours, probably days, if left to my own devices. Throw out the phone, tv, even music, for a period of time. No big deal.
But I’m finding that being quiet is so much more than simply not making any audible noise. Slowing down, I find it’s recognizing the cacophony of all of the reverberating things in my head—the conversations, the thoughts, the memories, the anticipations, the songs stuck in my brain that can repeat long after my iPod runs out of batteries. It’s not quiet inside. And so, slowly, I’m testing the waters of making time to be truly quiet, to make space to just exist for awhile. To let all the flashing lights and party favors whirring around in my head take a break.
And so I found myself this morning making some space to be quiet. But the world is not a completely quiet place. Even mostly still, clocks tick, fans whir, air-conditioners (God bless air-conditioners, it’s hot today) whoosh on and off—these all lie in the background noise which I never normally slow down enough to notice.
And then, of course, there are the birds.
I don’t know what kind of birds they were this morning, but the first few chirps were lovely and wonderful, and then the squawkers came in, loudly and with gusto. And my mind instantly, desperately wanted to figure out what was going on outside. The sounds they were making were almost wet—like there were geese sloshing around outside wearing galoshes half filled with water. Squelch. Squelch. Quack. No, my mind said, not galoshes. That’s ridiculous. And then, out of nowhere, my mind formed this calculated and expert analysis:
Yes, they were indeed ducks. Ducks bouncing on whoopie cushions.
I nearly lost it. My shoulders started shaking, I was laughing so hard. Silently. And then I managed to pull myself back just short of snorting out loud. I did not completely manage to get rid of the mammoth grin on my face. After awhile, I just decided to let that stay.
Anyway, for all intents and purposes, I heartily recommend exploring the world of silence. It is a surprising little universe we have in there, in our heads.
If you’re curious, here are some of the things I’ve been reading lately, none of which really have specific instructions on encountering ducks or whoopie cushions, but are intriguing, nonetheless:
• Buddha, by Karen Armstrong (a religious scholar with the combined talents of exploring religious beliefs respectfully while not being preachy or excruciatingly dull)
• The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker Buddhist Shepherd, by Mary Rose O’Reilly (a book of small notebook extracts, fun even if you only just like sheep)
• The Active Life, by Parker Palmer (on finding a balance between being a monk and an activist living in the real world)
• A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, by Parker Palmer (on being yourself, including how your soul is like a wild animal and how you can keep from scaring it away)
Just some food for thought. Have a good journey, whichever path you’re on. With or without ducks.