Category Archives: Quaker Practice

Are Quakers Mystics?

Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

Isn’t this what we Quakers do when we sit in silence during Worship and wait for a message beyond us to come through to the Meeting? Our spiritual practice itself is mystical. I personally experience an inner quaking when I am given a message to speak. My heart beats faster and my breath comes quicker. I feel shaky and cannot calm down until I rise to speak. Once the message is complete, the quaking stops. Other Quakers have shared similar experiences with me.

Here is a quote from New Studies in Mystical Religion by Quaker Rufus M. Jones (1927): The mystic, as I hope to show, is not a peculiarly favored mortal who by a lucky chance has received into his life a windfall from some heavenly Bread-fruit tree, while he lay dreaming of iridescent rainbows. He is, rather, a person who has cultivated, with more strenuous care and discipline than others have done, the native homing passion of the soul for the Beyond… The result is that he has occasions when the larger Life with which he feels himself kin seems to surround him and answer back to his soul’s quest…

Rufus Jones was fond of saying “the beyond is within.” Christ said, “The kingdom is within you.” Carl Jung likened us to an aspen grove, connected through roots he called the “collective unconscious”. He spoke of synchronicities that occur in everyday life which seem to reveal an underlying pattern and mystery to the Universe. Most of us have had an experience that gives us a glimpse into the Mystery.

For over thirteen years, I have been reading and writing for What Canst Thou Say? (http://www.whatcanstthousay.org/)—a Quaker publication featuring mystical experiences and contemplative practice. For the last three years I have been an editor. The writers for WCTS share stories of their experiences that have touched my heart and soul. They have helped me see that my own mystical experiences are not strange, but perhaps more common than I ever realized. Here are some examples:

  • Calling a friend who has been on your mind and they say: “How did you know I was just thinking of you and about to call?” I’ve had the experience of picking up the phone to dial a friend and they are already on the line—I’d picked up their call before the phone even rang!
  • Dreaming of someone and then running into them the next day.
  • Finding just the right book or article at the moment you need it. I once found a much needed book lying in the middle of the living room floor in a newly rented house which was otherwise empty. The same can be said of running into the right person at the right time who has an important message for us, or who may change the direction of our life.
  • Experiencing a series of coincidences that lead us down a certain path in life, which later appear to be intentionally synchronistic in explicable ways. My journeys as a therapist and Quaker were marked by many such coincidences.
  • Receiving important messages during meditation, Silent Worship or other times when we are still enough to hear the voice within. Sometimes these messages can come through like a lightning bolt and are accompanied by visions and hearing a voice that is not our own. From my experience, these are rare compared to the more quiet and ordinary messages.
  • Feeling yourself disappear and become one with nature, or music, or movement.
  • Becoming so immersed in the flow of an activity that you disappear and feel something is done through you. This has happened to me when writing, speaking and working as a therapist.
  • That little “tap on the shoulder” along with a message which guides you to what you need. For example, helping you find your car keys or something you need in a store. The other day my partner was led to a thrift store he never frequents to find an obscure lid for one of my mother’s pots. Sure enough, it was there! And it was only 45 cents.

As you watch practical saints operate, in a great variety of affairs and under very different conditions, you soon see… they seem to be lending their hands to a larger life than their own.  If they were asked, they would deny that they were mystics.  “No, I am not a mystic.  I have no mighty experiences.  I am too practical and too commonplace ever to be a mystic.”  My answer would be that there is no inconsistency between a mystical life and a practical life.  The more truly mystical a person is, the greater the probability that he will be effectively practical.” Rufus Jones, New Studies, p. 198-202.

Could we all be mystics and not know it? Can we open ourselves ever more to being conduits for the Light? Is Rufus Jones onto something when he suggests we can cultivate the “native homing passion of our souls for the Beyond?” What canst thou say about your own mystical experiences?

Postscript: If you have a mystical experience you would like to share, What Canst Thou Say welcomes submissions at any time, which you can send to rhondalou14@gmail.com.

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

So how to worship if we’re also trying to keep everyone safe? At the moment, Reno Friends are sitting in silence in our Meeting House garden, separated by six feet and our masks, hoping it doesn’t rain. In the fall, when it gets too cold to sit outside, we may take our worship online, using Zoom to gather in silence. We are learning that we have to keep reinventing what we do.

For Quakers, that’s not a stretch. We believe that the spiritual journey is one of continuing revelation, which springs from our personal experience of the divine Inward Light. One of my favorite Quaker expressions is “way will open,” which means that the proper course will reveal itself in time. But it also means we don’t necessarily know what comes next. It takes patient discernment of leadings and insights to find our path. We each listen to the “still small voice” inside us, then share what we’ve heard with the others for seasoning and, hopefully, eventual unity. We keep becoming, over and over.

The idea that revelation is ongoing, rather than set in stone by a creed or biblical text, is fundamental to the Quakers’ understanding of God. According to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting: “Continuing Revelation” means that… the Holy Spirit’s creative activity among us did not end with the first generation of Apostles at Pentecost. The Spirit continues to speak and reveal God’s insight and wisdom to us if we are willing to listen. While God is ‘unchanging,’ our understanding of God’s wisdom is not, and may increase or diminish overtime and over generations.”

This pandemic is nothing if not an exercise in continuing revelation. One week we are told to disinfect our groceries, the next week it turns out that may not matter. But, as Quakers, we know we must keep listening and reading and weighing alternatives to figure out how to live within our Light and do what God calls us to do. We also know that we must sometimes turn over knowing to the Spirit, and live patiently with the little we can know for now. 

At the moment, it feels helpful to consider this guidance from British Yearly Meeting: “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.” In short, there is continuing revelation all around us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

I was walking with a dear friend the other day who nodded and smiled knowingly when I shared that I’m grateful for my increased solitude. She said she was anxious about Coronavirus going away and having to return to her previous social life. I could relate. As we strolled along, we wondered why we feel captive to the social norms of society and the needs of others? What about our own needs for solitude, quiet, reflection? How can we speak for ourselves and still honor our more socially oriented loved ones? We are becoming aware of which relationships are important to nurture and where we may need to set better boundaries. I’m glad I can share this journey with a kindred spirit.

My partner is another kindred who reminds me that he deliberately avoids agreeing to as many engagements as I do. I fear I’ve been dragging him along into a busier life than he prefers. My other gratitude is having more time with him, alone. I adore his company and luxuriate in our longer conversations. The cat has stopped wandering around squalling for attention, since we are here most of the time and more attentive to him. He is grateful for more connection with us. I talk to my mother every day and there is more spaciousness in my heart for her. My social circle is drawing in closer as I focus on my most important relationships, rather than trying to be there for everyone and get everything done on some list.

I like the Quaker testimony of Simplicity and the query I most like is: Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and Light? Though I have been diligent about uncluttering my things, I’ve been cluttering my calendar with commitments beyond my strength and Light. So, I decided to set Mondays aside as my Retreat Day where I schedule nothing and withdraw from the outer world. This has helped me remain sane and more serene during this uncertain time. I pray for continued resolve to honor my deep need for solitude and freedom from doing for this one day a week. How can I hear the song of my soul if I’m so busy I can’t even listen?

One of the struggles I am having is with my desire for some kind of scheduling formula. Spirit laughs at me from within and suggests, “Surrender.” I suspect I will find my way moment-by-moment by simply doing the next right thing. I trust my heart will show the way.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

As societies, we are asking what is an essential service? I am grateful to all the people who are continuing to provide essential services so we can live. We are having to look at how we have structured our lives, our businesses and organizations, our communities, our societies. We are learning how inter-connected we all are with each other and all things.

My sense is our lives have been interrupted so that we might create a new life, one that is simpler, more balanced, and more in harmony with nature and others. My guess is that, deep down, we have all known our old ways could not go on.

I have always found the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to be helpful when I consider what is truly essential in my life.

Simplicity

(This is the seventh in a series of 12 monthly queries developed by Pacific Yearly Meeting. All monthly queries are on this website under the All About Quakers tab in the main menu.)

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center . . . a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but occupies all our time. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

Elise Boulding writes in My Part in the Quaker Adventure, “Simplicity, beauty, and happiness go together if they are a by-product of a concern for something more important than ourselves.”

Do I center my life in an awareness of God’s presence so that all things take their rightful place?

Do I live simply and promote right sharing of the world’s bounty?

Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?

How do I maintain simplicity, moderation, and honesty in my speech, my manner of living, and my daily work?

Do I recognize when I have enough?

Is the life of the Meeting so organized that it helps us to simplify our lives?

Friends, I’m holding us all in the Light as we move through this challenging passage into new ways of being with each other and in the world. We all have Light within us and gifts to give, and we all need the gifts others have to share. May you shine your Light and encourage others, as your equals, to shine theirs. May you receive with gratitude and graciousness. May you take time to nourish yourself and your family, to play, to exercise, and to rest.  Envision what can be possible, and then put feet and hands to it! Your life is your example, your greatest testimony.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Trails

Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I stayed a few days in a cabin, and cross country skied in the mountain meadows near Tahoe. The first thing we did was get a trail map with suggestions from a local expert on which trails would be best for us to try. We usually stick with a set trail our first time in a new spot. When we follow the trails of others, I don’t have to think about the path. I notice the sky, the mountain peaks, birds in the trees, the glint of sunlight like diamonds on the snow, the crisp feel of the air on my face.

As we become familiar with the lay of the land, however, we often wander off to create our own trail. This requires more focus on choosing a course over hills and through trees, and a willingness to take risks. Sometimes it works out beautifully and we find an awesome new way through the woods and meadows, enjoying new vistas and spots for lunch. There is a thrill to making fresh tracks in the snow, particularly when it has just the right firmness and you can float easily over the top crust without breaking through.

Other times, we don’t choose the best way. On this trip, the snow was hard-packed and icy. We decided to cut off the main trail and find our own way down to the meadow below. Unfortunately, I picked a hill too steep for me to get down safely. Sometimes you can’t tell that until you are committed. I fell. Assessing the situation, I pulled off my skis and went the rest of the way down on my hands and knees! At the bottom, I put my skis back on and we floated through the meadow, over shorter hills, and back to the car. Another time when we tried breaking our own trail, we had a lovely ski, but ended up on the other side of a river and had to walk a mile back to our car with our skis and poles over our shoulders! It was exhausting.

In reflecting on trails, I’ve come to see that sometimes it’s critical to follow a trail someone else set who knows better than you where to go. Other times, I enjoy the adventure of discovering a new path and seeing where it will take me. Some of those are delightful and worthy of sharing; others need to be marked with a big sign saying, “Don’t go this way!”

Here are several queries to explore this topic:

  • How do I discern when to follow the trail another has set vs. when to break a new trail for myself?
  • What blocks me from heeding the wisdom of those who have gone before me?
  • What blocks me from heeding my own inner wisdom and charting a unique-to-me course?

Please join us on Sun. Apr. 17 at 8:45 am in the Meeting House for a Spiritual Discussion session on Spiritual Paths and Breaking Trails.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Release the Fear of Suffering

I woke up this morning with a very clear message, “Release the fear of suffering.” I snuggled in with my beloved partner, Scott, and shared it with him. He then told me he was restless all night, convinced he was having a recurrence of chronic wrist pain. After work with a skilled physical therapist and healer recently, it had completely stopped, with only occasional twinges and some soreness if he used his hands a lot during the day. Finally, he got up and went to get his wrist brace. “As I was walking over to get it, I realized my wrist didn’t hurt. I must have been dreaming, afraid of the pain coming back.”

An example from my own life is my tendency to catastrophize and imagine the worst happening instead of the best. These days I often find myself awash in my fears for Mother Earth and what will happen in the future because of human activities which are seriously damaging the biosphere. I can lose myself in despair and hopelessness if I let my mind continue down this spiral of thought.

Isn’t this how it goes? We cause suffering in the present because we are fearful of suffering in the future. We can become obsessed with trying to control our future to avoid suffering or become frozen with despair. Oftentimes, that which we fear either doesn’t come to pass or is much less scary than we’d imagined. How much more suffering do we endure because of our fear? How much of our life do we waste worrying, strategizing, controlling, withdrawing, isolating ourselves, bracing against pain (which can cause more pain due to chronic tension from muscle guarding) and despairing in hopelessness?

One of my favorite teachers is Ekhart Tolle who wrote The Power of Now. He asks, are you in danger now? Are you in pain now? What is true in this moment? He encourages us to live more in the moment, the only one we truly have. He asks us to trust that if we are fully present right NOW all will be well and we will clearly know what response to make to whatever is in front of us. It is the only space in which we can transform our own lives and the world in which we live.

How might our lives be different if we released our fear of suffering in the future? Waiting for the other shoe to drop? The pain to return? The bottom to fall out? The world to end?

In my experience, we create in our life and our world that which we dwell upon in our thoughts. What if we spent more time focusing on what we would like to create instead of what we fear? What if we embrace hope, peace, loving kindness? What miracles could happen if we act from that place?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Lying Fallow in this Season

The idea of “lying fallow” comes from agriculture. It is an ancient practice used by farmers to rest and restore soil. The idea is to take a field out of production, plow it under and let it lie fallow for a year or two. During this time, nutrients in the soil are renewed so the next crop planted will thrive. As I’ve observed nature, I’ve noticed lying fallow is not just for soil.

As the leaves fall, days shorten and temperatures cool, I find myself craving rest and quiet time at home. I long for spacious hours to draw inward and restore my energy after the exuberant activities of summer. I’m not the only one. The cat spends more hours curled in his baskets, preferably in the sun or on the heated bathroom floor. The bunnies and squirrels in the park appear less often, spending most of their time underground, only coming out when it is warm and sunny.

Yet, this seems to be the busiest time of year for social gatherings and community events. Our calendars fill up with holiday parties, get-togethers, lunches, dinners, coffee dates, shopping, and travel to be with family. Our mailboxes fill with annual holiday greetings and we have a list of our own to get out.

Something in me rails against this busyness which appears at the exact time that I want to be lazy, stay home and rest! In recent years, I’ve become more mindful of how I do this season. I examine every request that comes my way and ask myself if it is an absolute YES; if it isn’t, I politely decline. At times I make exceptions – sometimes what someone else needs is more important than my preferences. I strive to balance my energy, my Light, as Friends like to say.

This year I’m trying something new, a Retreat Day once a week. On this day, I keep my schedule free so I can stay at home and float through my day, doing that which restores me and allows me to settle deeply into myself. I’m an introvert, meaning that I need alone time to restore my energy after I’ve been out and about in our extroverted and busy world.

Here’s what I am noticing about my experiment: I am calmer, slower, more peaceful and thoughtful this season. Knowing I have a Retreat Day to look forward to every week helps me be more present to others, as well as to myself. The bucket I’m giving out of is fuller, so my giving is fluid and easy. I don’t feel drained, over-obligated and resentful. I know I will have the time I need to rest and recharge. I wonder what took me so long to give myself this gift of a day of rest! Like the fields, lying fallow restores me so I can nourish others with joy, and isn’t that what this season is all about?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

(The views expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting)

Bad Quaker

Every now and then, someone in our Quaker Meeting says, “I’m just a bad Quaker.” If one of us gets caught complicating an issue in Business Meeting, or if someone doesn’t have time to make food for the feed-the-homeless dinner, they might drop their head in defeat and say something about being a bad Quaker.

I’ve also occasionally heard of people who left Quakerism because they felt they couldn’t live up to the Quaker testimonies. “It was just too hard,” they say. “Too much pressure.”

Why does this happen? My theory is that we are forgetting the purpose of the testimonies. The testimonies represent the collective Quaker wisdom about how to live a good and spirit-focused life. Each regional Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in the U.S. has a slightly different list of testimonies, but the standard group are what in Quaker education are called the SPICES:  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

Simplicity means to value spirit over material objects and to keep your life uncluttered by things and too much busyness.  Peace is the famous Quaker commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution and Quakers’ refusal to support wars. Integrity means to speak truthfully and follow through with your commitments.  Community means to support, aid and respect others in the communities you live in, including the Meeting. Equality means to accept everyone as precious in the eyes of God – all genders, races, economic levels, etc. Stewardship means to care for the earth, the Meeting, one’s town and nation, by giving both your effort and financial support to the degree that you can.

Wow. That is a lot to live up to! Each testimony is both personal and global in scale, so it’s understandable that a person could feel overwhelmed. Being a good Quaker can also sometimes feel like all the fun in life has been sucked away. Does it mean you can’t buy a new dress for a special event?  Does it mean you must tell your mother-in-law what you really think?  Does it mean you need to spend all your free time trying to correct injustice in the world?

But here is what we must remember: the testimonies are not rules handed down by the patriarchs. (“Unprogrammed” Quakers – those who worship only in silence – don’t have patriarchs or any clergy.) Instead, the testimonies are the collective wisdom and guidance of generations of Quakers sitting in silence and listening to God. And one of the most important principles of Quakerism is that each person listens to their own experience of God. Spiritual nirvana is not the goal: the goal is learning to let down your defenses and put away your ego when you sit in silence and listen to God. Being a good Quaker is not about earning gold stars, and the testimonies are not commandments. Their purpose, in part, is to clear away the debris of everyday business and help us see more clearly the way to live a spirit-centered life.  

In my youth I spent a few years in the orbit of a Jesus movement that had many slogans. After I left the group, I forgot most of those bite-sized bits of spiritual wisdom, but one stayed with me: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.”

This is the balm that can help us relax about being good or bad Quakers. Not being able to live up to the high calling of the Quaker testimonies just means you are struggling to follow the path, and all spiritual travelers will tell you they struggle to stay on the path. And, according to Quaker understanding, everyone is building the spiritual path that makes sense to them, that incorporates their experience of God. This is what makes spiritual journeys so interesting.

The testimonies serve best as guidance when they are combined with sitting in silence to hear what God has to say. Sometimes God and the testimonies will lay out a challenge; other times they will combine to light an easier way through difficulties. Quakers often say “the way will open.” This I too find reassuring: the path ahead doesn’t need to be a daunting obstacle course.

Please be patient with me: I’m listening for God to open the way.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Meeting Community, Part 1 (from PYM’s Faith & Practice)

The Religious Society of Friends arose as a community of the Spirit, centered in regular, shared worship. Ostracized and attacked by mainstream English society, Quakers developed a loving social community which, while not immune to struggle and conflict, supported their personal growth, their care for one another, and their work in the larger world.

Now as then, community is essential to Friends’ life and spiritual growth. A strong Meeting community offers companionship, resources to care lovingly for those in need, and a place to test and support leadings and concerns. Community is expressed in many ways: by cheerfully joining together to accomplish the work of the Meeting, refraining from gossip and disparaging others, taking part in clearness committees, providing pastoral care, and reflecting Friends values in the larger society. Community is also expressed in commemorative, sociable and playful activities of the Monthly Meeting.

Those who belong to a Meeting community receive its loving care. Each one in turn should attend to the spiritual condition of others. While respecting others’ privacy, Friends must be sensitive to one another’s needs and willing to ask for assistance in times of trouble. Conflict and difference are a part of life, a necessary result of the varying needs, aims, and perspectives of individuals and communities. Bringing them into the open is a necessary step towards empathy, understanding, and healing. Individuals and Meetings need to address conflict promptly in a spirit of goodwill and a desire to maintain loving relationship. When resolution is not immediate, the Meeting waits for way to open, while persisting in an earnest search for unity.

Recognizing the universal human needs for embrace, intimacy and sharing, as well as solitude, Friends support each other as individuals, couples, and families, however constructed or defined. The Meeting strives to be present for all its members throughout different stages of their lives and their specific needs — as single people, coupled, or in broader communities — recognizing the Divine in each. The Meeting can be an instrument of “divine assistance,” not only in supporting the marriages under its care, but also in supporting single people and all forms of partnership. We all have need for solitude as well as companionship, though these needs differ and are not always arrived at by choice. The Meeting Community plays a vital role in being sensitive to the needs and changing circumstances of its members.

I do not think I am alone in my certainty that it’s in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed.”  George Gorman, Britain Yearly Meeting, 1982.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

 (Note: Instead of writing a blog this month, I am presenting a selection from PYM’s Faith and Practice.)

The Gifts of Silence

My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few other people around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.

Since I became a Quaker and learned to sit in silence, I’ve grown thirsty for even more silence in my life. The noisier the world gets, the more I need to retreat to quiet places, and I know I’m not the only one. I read recently that the country of Finland is boasting of its charms with a new marketing campaign featuring photos of lone people in natural settings. The caption reads, “Silence, Please.”

It turns out that quiet can be restorative to the human brain. Scientific studies recently found that mice experiencing two hours of silence a day built new cells in a part of the brain that manages emotion, memory and learning. Other studies have found that chronic noise leads to higher levels of stress hormones, which are associated with lower reading scores and delayed cognitive development in children. Chronic noise appears to trigger a sensory guard in the brain, while silence lets the brain relax and process some of what has been blocked by noise.

Spiritual traditions that employ silence – such as meditation and silent worship – are built on the advantages silence offers. One of our Reno Friends recently remarked that he found two great gifts in silence. The first was the gift of the self: when the world suddenly falls away, you are confronted with yourself. There’s no hiding, and nothing to distract from what is going on in your own mind. In the beginning, he said, this can be disquieting. But in time you discover that the only way to truly know yourself is to wait patiently for the revelations of your own consciousness.

The second gift of the silence, he said, is that eventually even the self falls away and you become aware of a great void. That, too, can be disquieting at first, but in time the emptiness of true silence will bring a sense of deep peace. Once you forget yourself, you can fully relax.

So how do we build a habit of silence? Certainly meditation and silent worship provide good opportunities, but we can also look for short moments for silence in everyday activities.  Turn off the car radio and drive in silence; walk your neighborhood in silence; pause during a conversation to allow for moments of silence. Musicians know that managing the silence between notes is as important as the tones themselves. Otherwise there is no expression.

In all our daily lives, silence can play an important role.  Develop the habit; let the silence bloom.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting