Posts in silence
Two Experiments That I'm Trying Related to Silence

We have a lot of silence in any stretch of 24 hours. After all, we sleep in silence which accounts for 6-8 hours. It’s the rest of the day that’s a challenge. We battle two types of noise when we’re awake:

  • outer noise (either physical, i.e. sounds or digital, i.e. technology-related)
  • inner noise (the inability to focus and think deeply)
If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking
— St. Maximilian Kolbe

I’ve been experimenting over the past few months with ways to make silence more manageable. I confess that I occasionally find silence difficult. This is coming from an introvert who enjoys time alone. It’s still hard for me.

Silence is something that I want to be more comfortable with. My sense is that it’s good for me and as I prepared for this post, I found that I was not alone.

  • Thomas a Kempis said, “In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture”.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Silence is necessary, and even absolutely necessary. If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking”. 

I suspect that the rise of technology is a keen contributor to our struggle with technology. In a spare moment, it’s become muscle-memory to grab out phones and do… whatever. We just feel as if we should be checking.  Email, Twitter, Social Media, new wallpaper downloads, clearance sales, anything at all.

And that makes silence all the more difficult. After all, it can’t hold a candle to the exciting lure of how many likes yesterday’s Instagram post garnered.

But, and here’s the key- what if silence could measure up? What if it were actually more valuable to our spiritual lives than anything that could possibly be on our phones? 

Two Silence Experiments

To better handle my own struggle with silence, I've been trying two experiments. First, I’ve been practicing a Digital Sabbath once a week. Usually on a Sunday, I will try to avoid using my phone or computer. You could call it “old school Sunday” as we break out the books with real paper and spend more time outdoors. It feels somehow nostalgic and … right. It seems to have put my week in perspective nad made a difference. While in the first few months I dreaded the Digital Sabbath, I now look forward to it.

God is the friend of silence.
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

A second experiment has dealt with spontaneity. Whenever I’m driving somewhere and feel the slightest urge to pray or be quiet, I turn off the radio or podcast. I let the silence fill the car and flood my mind. I figure that this is either (simply) a good way to include more silence in my day or (and more importantly) a nudge from God to shut up and be quiet. Both are good.

These two experiments with silence are making a difference in my prayer life. When I have my morning quiet time, close my eyes and be still, the silence is a little easier. Because I’m “doing the work” during the week, the prayer muscle of my heart is more toned and able to receive the silence God provides. As St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, "God is the friend of silence."

When it comes to silence, what works for you?

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Noise Levels and Work: Finding Your Sweet Spot

What's your optimal level of noise? 

I have a friend named William who needs absolute silence when he studies.  He goes into a room, closes the door and reads.  Another friend, Sharon, can work with a higher level of noise.  Her preferred space for work is the coffee shop close to her house. 

I'm probably somewhere in the middle.  I don't mind some noise but I need space to zone out and get things done.

How about you? 

At what point do you slow down and see your work suffering as a result of the noise around you?  It could be a result of coworkers interruptions or enabled chimes on your laptop.  It could also be a result of the noise in your own head- distractions are something we all deal with.

In this way, work is similar to prayer in that we all have to find ways to dial back our internal noise.   For me, my role at work is often a distraction and one that I have to "work" to keep in place.  

Here's the deal- first, you'll want to identify the ideal levels of noise for your work productivity.   Are you more like Sharon or Will?  Or, maybe you're like me and you don't mind a bit of background noise?  Pay attention to the times in your week when you are especially productive.  How much noise was there?

Second, let's discuss some strategies for embracing your ideal noise levels.  Here are my three recommendations:

  •  Stop worrying so much about what others think about you when you work.  After all, the bottom line is to produce good work that matters to the organization.  If you work in a company that allows headphones, go for it.  If you are in a cubicle, see if some quiet background noise is allowed and then make it happen.  If you are a "total quiet" kind of worker, figure out spaces that allow for you to get alone and get quiet.
  • Be a person who suggests change and then participate in the progress.  Read here what 37 Signals does to promote a quiet workplace.  You could do that too. 
  •  Get into the zone as often as possible, with noise reduction as your ally.  What we are talking about is pretty important stuff- your career, family, social network, even your faith all depend on periods of time in which you can focus and get things done.  Figure out the noise stuff and you're one step closer to hitting it out of the park on a regular basis.

Is all of this relative?  Sure.  Is it vitally important to figure out and then repeat over and over again?  Absolutely. 

What's your ideal level of noise when you are hard at work? 

 *BTW, Craig Jarrow shared a link to a great (and free!) service called Coffitity.  Simple enough, Coffitity provides coffee shop background noise for when you work.  I've used it for a few days now and it's great! 

**photo courtesy of TMN 

Inside my '09 Experiment: Centering Prayer
I was invited by Leo Babauta to participate in his The Power of Less 30 Day Challenge.  Not really prepared for "going public" with a New Year's resolution, I dove in and posted what came first to my mind.

10 minutes of centering prayer a day.

Little did I know how difficult centering prayer would be.  First, a little bit about this ancient method of prayer.  Centering prayer is a technique of daily meditation during which a sacred word or phrase is repeated in order to push back distracting thoughts.  Monks have used centering prayer for centuries as a way to stay grounded, pursue silence and retain a state of calm throughout the day.  The sacred word is less of a brick and more of a feather being dropped into a body of still water.  It's meant to be gentle as all get out.

Sounds easy right?  Not so fast.


I first began with a period of 5-10 minutes each night.  I would sit on my bed and just ... well, be.  My sacred word varied from "Lord" to "Jesus" or whatever else came to mind.  As a Christian, these words hold tremendous value for me.  For someone without a faith tradition, centering prayer can still be a helpful way of staying grounded during the day.  Just shift the sacred word and jump right in.

After a few days, I was feeling like I was being antisocial.  My wife would be watching TV in the next room and I would just extract myself in order to go and pray.  It wasn't working.

My second week was a series of hits and misses.  The couch was too cold (leather).  Lying on my stomach was too restrictive and I nearly fell asleep.  On a nightly basis, I was tempted to ditch my little experiment.  What difference is this making anyways,  I would tell myself over an over again.  Just fending off the negative voices in my head was more of a practice than the blessed 10 minutes that I was supposed to be doing.


So here I am after three weeks of centering prayer.  I've settled on a great spot- a comfortably wide chair in my living room.  I can look out the window at the stars if I get distracted.  As for my sacred word, I've tried hard not to hedge myself in on one phrase.  Sometimes I go back to "Lord" and at other times I just go with whatever feels right for the moment.  Not surprisingly, I'm ok with where I am for now.  With ten days to go, I am confident that I can keep with it and hopefully see the effects of centering prayer in the rest of my daily life.

More to come in follow up posts...stay tuned.


Resting in God's Presence, Fr. Thomas Keating

About Centering Prayer, Wikipedia

Origins of Centering Prayer, Basil Pennington

Extending the Benefits of Centering Prayer in Daily Life, Fr. Thomas Keating