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SILENCE WITH OTHERS: THE POWER OF BEING QUIET TOGETHER

Silence Together (silence pt 2)


It’s probably been a long time since you were in a public (or private) space with other people without some type of background noise or talking. The word “silence” is usually associated with the word “awkward” in a group gathering. Consider the last church (or other religious) service you were at with absolute silence. Maybe you can’t even think of a time. What about the last time you were in a space with people where there was silence--no background music, no keyboard clacking, no coffee machine running, no cars driving past outside. Can you even think of a time this happened? It’s that rare.


Contemplative life challenges these values. I take groups of strangers or casual acquaintances and make them sit in silence together--sometimes for twenty minutes (or more!). Absolute silence. The kind of silence where you can hear stomachs growling and people swallowing their saliva. 


Oddly enough, people usually thank me for making them do that. 


Why? For one thing, it’s accountability. Many people want to create more space in their lives for silence, but it’s hard to do alone. When everybody will hear you if you do anything but just sit there, you can’t escape. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s a shared experience in silence together. It’s this odd thing where you’ve all just done the same thing--been in the same room being quiet, but you’ve likely had profoundly different interior experiences. In a world where we are often talking about what we’ve done, who we’ve met, where we’ve gone, sometimes it takes a long time to get to that interior world. After sitting in silence with a group of people, you’ve all been in that interior world for a little while, so that is easily discussed. 


This is why silence in a group is such a gift. People are constantly talking about how hard it is to develop deep, meaningful connections. I hear people complain about shallow conversations over and over--about how social media is ruining us. Silence together is at least one clear step toward finding solutions for these things. It gifts people with a deep shared experience. Once you’ve sat silently with a group for 20 minutes, you probably at least have some things to say about what that experience was like--even if you didn’t have a particularly meaningful experience. Likely, someone in the group did, and you can spend time learning from that too. 


So give it a try! Get with 2-3 people you’ve heard complain about wanting more depth in relationships and sit silently together. Sometimes it helps to have a focus like everyone considering things they’re grateful for, or even asking God to reveal what His blessings have been. It’s pretty simple, while also impactful. Don’t underestimate the powerful bond that can be forged by silence together. 


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