by Amos Smith
The writer Kathleen Norris tried to get some kids in a classroom to sit in silence. When asked to sit silently a second time one fifth grader retorted, “I don’t want to!” He continued, “It’s like we’re waiting for something, it’s scary.” 1 Silent prayer is not only scary. It’s exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it seems simple, yet anyone who’s tried it will attest to its difficulty. It’s perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. Yet, it’s also the most rewarding.
The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible than training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training.
Because training the mind seems insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable results, the Western mind usually dismisses it as “navel gazing” or “self-hypnosis.” “Don’t you have something better to do?” Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant—as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet, mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and the key to freedom.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated from all worldly affairs. They sojourned into the desert to behold blessed stillness. And Quakers through the ages have written that deep listening to God requires stillness and silence. We can’t pray unless we pause and listen for the “still small voice of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:12b, NKJV).
1 Norris, Amazing Grace, p.17.
image credit: Rich Lewis