Improving on the Silence

A Quaker 'meeting for worship' is characterized by sitting in silence in 'holy expectancy'.... waiting on a message from God, Spirit, Source, Higher Self, the inward teacher, whatever one wants to name it ... which may then be shared in spoken (or occasionally sung) words with the rest of the congregation.

There is much written about how one is to discern what is appropriate to share.... guidelines in how to differentiate between something meant for oneself, maybe more like group therapy, or that which is truly moved by spirit to be of benefit to others.

I think my favorite phrase that describes this litmus test, is to ask oneself whether their message is 'an improvement on the silence.'

For some months now, I have found myself more quiet than usual. Not just in Meeting, but in social circles, with clients, and even with my writing - where once I felt like I might never shut up.

I have words and responses in my head during small-talk conversations ... sometimes ... but no real impetus lately to speak them. I've started many blog posts and articles, but the momentum to follow through seems to putter out within a paragraph or two.

I've wondered what that was about, and even worried what my silence might be interpreted as.

As a business person, especially as one that uses the internet to connect, the prevailing message of business gurus is to make sure that you're seen and heard constantly by your 'market'. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. Fears ignited and exploited around the consequences of not speaking up. To be successful, you have to stay continuously out in front of your current clients and your potential people.

That's a lot of people and messages and noise trying to stay out in front of everyone else.

It's exhausting trying to find bigger and louder and more attractive ways to do this, and I think overwhelming and then mind-numbing for the recipients of all this competition. I've recently recognized in myself the tremendous energetic output it requires for me to keep up the 'marketing conversation', just to make sure my clients remember me -  or any conversation, really, that becomes more about filling the uncomfortable space of silence that may arise when two or more people are together.

We have become targets and consumers of continual input of information, and visuals, and branding messages, and tips and tools and quotes and tag lines. And how much of this is actually adding to what we really need for our quality of life?

And so, I've been asking myself, do my people, do you really need one more blog post or ebook to read, or one more self-care practice to try (or feel guilty for not trying)? This question has stopped me in my tracks more than a few times.

And then, I asked myself, what might my clients really like to experience, even if occasionally? Or my loved ones? Or any of my fellow humans?

Is it the same as what I enjoy feeling in my life, even if occasionally?

Quiet? Simplicity? Deep rest? A few hours without bells and whistles grabbing my attention? A meaningful conversation? A single train of thought followed through from beginning to end? Peace?

Back to Meeting.

So, I was sitting there, engaged in the preliminary process of 'centering down', just as people were quietly filing in, And I was pondering the phrase, 'improvement on the silence', while breathing in and out slowly and with my eyes open, taking in the simple colors within my immediate view, which in our Meetinghouse are sparse.

No hangings on the wall. No decorations or adornments. Just old brown wooden benches. Greenish-gray paint on the lower part of the walls; off-white on the upper walls with cracks and mold. And very large windows opening to the trees outside, revealing only varying shades of green speckled morning sunlight. And, oh my, the smell of a summer morning, breezing in through the windows.

Visual silence, in a way. (It's never completely silent, obviously. There's the cars passing by, birds chirping, kids laughing in the yard, people shifting in seats, coughing, sniffling...) But it's the kind of a silence that's marked by the intentional and sacred absence of our culture's propensity to talk just for the sake of talking, even with the conspicuous presence of dozens of people in the room.

Sounds and visuals are minimal. Nothing to distract from the task at hand which is simply to wait... (other than the jabbering in our own heads, but that's a whole 'nuther story...).

In the midst of this meditation, a member of our Meeting who is a local preeminent gardener, walked in with an offering of cut flowers from his garden, which he placed in the center window of the three facing me.

This is a mostly weekly ritual of his, but for some reason, today was different.


Today, it was sunflowers. Simple, bold, smiling, joyful sunflowers.

I found myself tearing up, as I immediately realized that this bouquet was, indeed, an improvement on the silence.

Even writing about it now, my eyes are watering. They sat there in the deep windowsill, catching the sunlight as well as the eyes of others in the meeting, as I later heard by their gratitude - like mine - expressed.

Our worshipful silence too, is meant to be broken, when the message is right. We are meant to go into the isolation within, and then to share and temper what we might find there with the collective mind of the meeting.

We are meant to speak to one another in everyday life; to praise, to encourage, to critique, to lift up, to console, to share humor and wisdom and beauty. In Chinese Medicine, it's said that heart opens to the tongue. The heart is where spirit and consciousness dwell, and it finds expression through our speech.

Would the flowers still have been beautiful even in a more lavish and busy setting? Of course. But, I don't think as spiritually moving or perfectly appropriate or glorious or appreciated as they were in that holy, silent setting.

I don't want to always be silent or invisible. I am often admonished not to keep 'hiding my light under a bushel.'

But I know I really don't want to be in competition with the din of the world (which is exhausting for me) nor do I want to contribute any more to that din (which is exhausting for you) unless I believe that it will truly add something to your life. I want my words to be sunflowers. I want to honor the sacred place where my speech and truth emanate from - my heart. And I want to respect the ears (or eyes) of those whom my words fall upon.

So, what's my message here?

I'm not sure. I will still keep writing and creating stuff and offering things that i hope will help you live a more graceful life. It makes me happy to do that.

Maybe what I'm intending here is more is 'an improvement on the noise'. :)

In the meantime, please enjoy the sunflowers, and thank you for reading.