Updated: Sep 13
It can be so hard to find a place of silence. The human world has many sounds, the natural world too, just different ones.
Some cultures are not intimidated by silence, although often in modern western society it seems silence is a void we want to fill. Yet there are activities that some are drawn to which give them this Ilene, but they might not realise it’s merit: fishing, running or walking alone-without earbuds. Are there activities that you do, that silence is a part of?
You might think it is much easier to find silence at Fosterton Retreat than in Mayfield (our other home).Our sunset ritual is about sitting in the silence, but I can do it in the city too. It’s not about a place, but a choice, a state of being.
I sometimes need help to stay in the place of silence, so I put my phone timer on, turn the ringer off (you still hear the timer on mine). Weirdly it frees me up to be present as I know that whatever time I’ve set aside, it will let me know.
“Silence is so accurate” modern artist Mark Rothko once said (https://www.nga.gov/features/mark-rothko/mark-rothko-classic-paintings.html). If this is new territory and you are uncertain, these are small steps.
Physical stillness precedes inner stillness, so we can then enter the silence.De Waal encourages us to “find the position[bold mine] most comfortable in which to sit perfectly still: as if we do not want to disturb a bird that has flown down and rested on our head.” [Esther De Waal, Lost in Wonder, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003),38.]
Now focus on your breathing. A constant while we are alive. So constant we often don’t even notice. Breathe in and out slowly, then read the following slowly. At the second section take the time to read it in a rhythm with your breath.
“Breathe deep, breathe deep,
Feel the movement of life in your body;
Feel the circling of the blood, the beat of the heart;
Feel the digestive juices breaking down the food into nourishment;
Breathe deep, breathe deep.
Feel the air….flowing freely….freely….freely
In and out….in and out….the rhythm….the rhythm of living.
Living….living….your living….our living
Breathe deep, breathe deep…
June Boyce-Tillman, The Creative Spirit, Harmonious Living with Hildegard of Bingen,(Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 2000), pp 185-6. In Esther De Waal, Lost in Wonder, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003), 39-40.
De Waal wrote about a still life painting helping us be still and encourages us to enter the deep silence under it. I had never thought about still life paintings this way.A still life painting includes made or natural objects- which are no longer ‘growing/living’ eg cut flowers, jugs, cups etc (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life). Once they were paintings but they can be installations, or collages too.
We’re going to use a still life to contemplate with. Now before you panic and say “I don’t have a still life painting in my home”, there are a few options, all in silence:
Make one yourself: again, don’t panic- you don’t need to paint one, you can collage it by cutting out pieces of paper or fabricto represent objects-coloured paper or newspapers, advertising brochures, old clothes or books you no longer want,
Clear a space on a table or use a tray to set one up of your own. Take a photo of it, to print and add to your journal,
Print one of Cézanne’s off the web (remember to copy the reference):
Paul Cézanne,1894, “Still-life pitcher and fruit,” oil on canvas, 43.2 x 62.8cm, private collection
Paul Cézanne, 1890, “Nature morte, pot a lait et fruits sur une table,” (Still life, milk jug and fruits on a table), oil on canvas, 59.5 x 73 cm, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_-_Still_life_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
If you don’t have a printer at home, keep it on your screen to use, but stay focused the internet will try and lure into its many rabbit warrens.
Now in silence spend some time looking, with focus on your chosen still life.Look at part of your still life through your magnifying glass and see what comes to you.Spend at least 10 minutes, allowing yourself to sink into the silence.
“Listen to the silence,
Let it enfold you,<