Saturday, March 10, 2012

To deliver oneself up to silence

Photo, Untitled, by Thomas Merton
"To deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hill, or sea, or desert: to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence."
      ~Thomas Merton 

For many days we have had the words “Slow down . . . to the pace of the soul” hoisted up on the mast of this blog. Could it be that we have heeded our own advice, and not been tempted into a sense of obligation to post something? Silence here comes mostly from the constraints of our otherwise selves, apart from blogs: the stuff of life. But there is also something promising in this quiet, if it points to the “living and vigilant silence” Merton attended to, and Martha Graham demonstrated with her hands and countenance (see last post).

Silence in this quoted passage is something to be entered, and filled. Note the verbs Merton writes: deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely . . . fills, belong to, soak, breathe, feed on, and then turn into. For him silence sustains and nourishes. You might even feel that if it weren't for silence, he might not survive, with his soul intact.

If silence is to be submitted to, then it has authority. If it is to be entered, the way light enters it when the sun rises, then it is a space. If you can belong to it, then it is a proprietor. If it is air, and food, then it becomes a habit, necessary to life itself. And then, as if to say "you are what you eat" because what you invite into your bones, you become, Merton says we can turn the stuff of life into silence, to be the silence in the end!

9 comments:

  1. the dulling of the noise of experiencing is surely the most difficult work. steven

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    1. Steven, yes, and sometimes I get excited that there is more to be done.

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  2. This is such a wonderful passage from Merton. Personally, I want to crawl into the center of these words and dwell there forever—far away from the madding crowds. Here, once again, we return to the issue of trust, which I mentioned in my comment on Sync this morning. "To entrust oneself completely," not only to the silence, but to everything that unfolds in every moment. One of the paradoxes of silence, at least for me, is that it is the only place in which in which I can truly listen and truly hear.

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    1. Thanks, George. I need silence to listen and truly hear as well. I learn to trust that all will be well, all is well, but I need the silence to process it. Maybe one day I will be able to live in silence even in that "dulling noise" Steven mentioned.

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  3. The Merton is just lovely. I really find it speaks to my soul. I have a poem that I've been working on - trying to get a description of the depth of silence at the end of the poem. Opening to it is immediately transformational for me. Such a mysterious encounter.

    Late in the Hammock of Night

    listening after the owls
    have gone to sleep in their trees
    the coyotes curled up in dens,
    listening to a plane tracking
    past the light of Bend,
    the swoosh of a truck rushing
    down route 20.

    An ocean of quiet
    in-between.

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    1. Lorna, thank you for sharing your poem, which conjures the beauty of sound, and no sound, in the night. And what a gorgeous and evocative title! Ahh, ... the hammock of night!

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  4. I think this immersion into silence is what I run to every summer at my childhood friend/sister's cottage on a lake. I am usually the first to rise, before dawn. I hear the cacophony of the waking birds, the the brilliance of the sun on water quells their song, it seems. For quite a few moments-- or perhaps a second-- all is overwhelmingly, almost staggeringly still. I watch the sparkles on the water intensify as they slowly ripple toward shore, nearly blinding just before they disappear with contact with land. I usually have half an hour to simply be there in that stillness.

    I am not sure I've ever been in absolute silence. The quieter I am, the more I notice those sounds--water on rock, a squirrel's footsteps, a fish tail hitting water.

    Maybe that is a silence that allows us to truly listen

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Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.”