Thursday, November 22, 2012

Talee Railway Station

For me there is a kind of silence that reigns in places that were once full of sound, activity and human presence. Talee railway station is a place that evokes a silence that is profound.

I find a way down to the old station yard soon after entering the town and crossing the level crossing. I imagine it's been some time since the bells and lights announced the arrival of a train collecting grain or even the kind of hybrid utility that inspects the rails with special wheels fore and aft to grip the track. The weeds suggest a forgotten line.

There is a brick built station, several lines that weave through the grass like tired serpents sleeping in the sun and an old covered goods shed. There are distant sounds, cars in the distance, grain trucks sounding their air brakes and a child crying some way off. Here is an oasis of abandonment, a frozen moment as I explore first the old shed with the sound of welcome swallows crying to each other, the coo of feral pigeons and the harsh cry of a passing galah.

Once this was the main line carrying freight and passengers across the continent or during the second war troops up the line to Terowie where they would snatch a meal before boarding the narrow gauge train to the north. This is a well built station with loops to allow trains to pass each other. Once there were tall steam express trains with streamlined bodies pausing here to take water or cross the local passenger rail car from Clare or trucks full of grain for the Adelaide wharfs. I explore through an open door the stationmasters office full of rubbish and then the porters office and the ladies waiting room. Who waited here for the train to take her into town to college or for shopping in Gawler? Did the stationmaster live in the large house nearby which is still occupied with a beautiful garden full of flowers? The canopy over the platform has intricate ironwork now misted with rust.

The railway lines rest on old wooden sleepers and all is grass gown lit by late afternoon sun as I contemplate what I might do next. I wonder if I should take some photographs but decide against the idea since this might take away some of the experience.

Over this once busy station, the pride of the town silence hold the place as it sinks into decay, moving from the solidity and permanence of its Victorian founding to waiting on the decisions of others. With grass grown tracks stretching into the distance it also holds a promise. Could a train traverse this line still on the broad gauge and travel north to Burra the extent of the track work? Listening to the singing of the birds at their work I strain to hear long departed sounds of people and activity, of trucks being loaded under the covered roof of the goods shed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wind blowing through

I feel the sound of the wind. That is I am unsure if the wind has this sound or if the sound I hear is shaped by my experience of it on my head. I turn to face the other way and now the sound is different. Standing still I breathe mindfully to let go of thoughts and then bring my attention to his skull battering wind. Now it is more a harmony of sounds, textures and touches. Do I hear things as they are? I am not so sure given that our body shapes and interacts with sound of all kinds. Wind I invariably find brings me to a certain stillness. On a rare occasion it evokes a deep memory but for that to happen the wind must be shaped to call forth the experience, usually waves of sound reminding me of a childhood on the English coast where wind was almost always a feature alongside the cry of gulls and often the music of pebbles dragged across the beach by waves alternating with the smaller finer voice of shingle. Yet the wind is the canopy for this experience of mind so many years later. Wind against skull, wind seemingly blowing through me, wind an invitation to contemplate interdependence.

Friday, August 24, 2012

words that divide

A conversation with a noted theological teacher and writer focusses around God language. The question that comes to many is that how do we use words that seem to be fused to a set definition. Buber somewhere laments that the word 'God' has become so overlaid with a set meaning that the many want to jettison words that seem to lock us into dualism or images that seem to suck the life out of spiritual seekers. He calls on us not to give up on the word but to work with the images. We are indeed the victim of literalism in our spiritual lives transposing the requirement for precision in science to the language of faith which is always poetic, metaphorical and multi layered through which through paradox and prayer we catch a glimpse of a wisdom where we catch our breath in wonder. Like an high board diver we climb the rungs, stand on the board and let go diving into the water in the interplay of words and silence in prayer and spiritual expression. How can faith communities give up clutching at words making space for the divine Logos, the whole whole ness drawing us to the One and animating poor words with the sparkle of love and hope, transformation and resurrection. Yes let us unfurl the banner of traditional languaging but not to fight a battle but to call to a careful confidence. When we allow ourselves to be silenced other than for reasons of love and magnanimity we are colluded with a binary definition of word and silence that handcuffs the spiritual community and the soul seeker.

The enchantment of words and voice

Pierre Lacout, wrote in 'God is Silence', "words divide, silence unites" setting this in an extended meditation on the power of silence in the spiritual life. Words have an enchanting power to unite, one hopes for a good and life giving purpose. During the winter month of July I have been leading four hour meditation sessions at the Oasis, the interfaith chaplaincy centre at Flinders University. Despite the cold cutting wind cutting through the breezeways at the University set on a hill overlooking the wider metropolitan city of Adelaide the warmth at the Oasis was warm and inviting. Taking the journey into silence with faculty and students generated a powerful healing energy for me as I 'took the wheel' so to speak as the facilitator standing in for one of the chaplains away on maternity leave. I have been left with a beautiful momento in the shape of a box with feathers and a stone or two and a card. It will be a reminder of four epic journeys into silence, space, healing and discovery

One of the insights generated by Neuro Lingustic Programming as it tracked 'wizards' of communicating genius is the sheer power of language spoken internally and externally in shaping our experience of being in the world. Coupled with research into hypnosis, through the genius of people like Milton Erikson stories and phrases that generate trance offers an individual room to explore their internal world. At Flinders University I used some traditional myths to invite those present in the room the ability to generate visualisations and internal sensory representations that served their wellness and flourishing in the world. I did some preparation before but for me the meditations seemed to just unfold at their own pace and in their own way. It's like presenting a reflection with a congregation that you feel to be on the same wave length or a deeply gathered Quaker meeting where words and images come clearly into awareness. There is kind of spirit guiding those words that seem to arise from beyond the ability of the leader. There is a greater guidance and I feel the pulse of energy flowing in the room.

Strangely silence is created by the spoken word, the cadence of the spoken phrases, the connection between the ideas presented and there is a strangeness about this experience since the wording is unlike normal discourse. Fluffy phrases, vagueness, evocative, words that double back on themselves or that have a range of possible meanings, far from confusing open a deeper consciousness within the room provided that the hearer feels they have choices to participate and trust the leader.

Silence in this human experience is framed by words and ideas where the soul seems to drop way beyond the words into a deeper and deeper relaxation where the Great Spirit can work. 'Yes' words can unite and that is indeed their danger. Choose your enchantment carefully.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Edith Stein

Seventy years ago on this day, the 9th August, Edith Stein died at Auschwitz alongside many Jewish people. One theologian said after the war that talk of God is impossible after the death camps. I suggest that another way of reflecting is to ensure that philosophical and theological conversation occurs always with an understanding of the cheapness of human life and the efficient ways human beings have developed to kill others. It's also to remember that behind genocide lie a series of ideas that grow into beliefs. Edith Stein was a brilliant phenomenologist who worked with  Husserl and is still highly regarded today although phenomenology has become more the investigation of lived experience as it has met post modern trends of thinking. Edith converted to the Catholic faith, entered Carmel and took the name Benedicta of the Cross. The embrace of the cross was an embrace of a vocation to be a bridge builder with the Jewish people and as part of offering her life  in solidarity with the suffering. Before her conversion while she was searching she visited a Cathedral.

"we went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue as in the Protestant Churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was somebody coming into the empty church in the middle of a days work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that" (page 63 Edith Stein by Waltraud Herbstrith)

As a Carmelite nun she was encouraged to continue her work as a philosopher while living a life of prayer, worship and work. She wrote of God; 'You are the space embracing all my being, hidden in it. Loosened from you I fall into the abyss'  She died in the abyss but for her as for many others this was precisely the abyss where the love of God was present since she brought always a hope into every conversation which went beyond shallow optimism and pessimism. Living at a time when shallow optimism is almost an expectation of all right thinking people so called Edith Stein shines still as a star of faith, hope and love. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on this anniversary of your death when like the grain of wheat you died may new hope spring up where silence is a place of listening and hope and not the silence of paralysis.

City streets

This morning waiting in central Adelaide I listened to the soundscape and it came to me that there is an almost universal experience of the mixture of sounds. With a city scape dominated by tall buildings and narrow streets sounds echo. Somewhere there is jackhammer since buildings are always being constructed or new services laid in the streets. There is the wail of an emergency vehicle, the sound of heels clicking across footpaths and a range of sounds as large packages cling wrapped in plastic are offloaded from a van with the whine of an electrical lift. The city has its own weather as winter winds howl between tall buildings to chill the heart funneling through the maze of streets and in summer the heat is held in all the concrete. Yet winter or summer that characteristic echo of delivery, building, building alarm, police car is present in differing volumes. Yet I could hear much the same in New York or Sydney, or London since every tall building CBD tends to create this soundscape. It's not a very friendly place for humans. These streets must shield the occasional al fresco seating from the weather but most endure and go indoors when they can do so, shadows into shadows. At least in Adelaide open squares are not far away

Monday, August 6, 2012

Winter night

The light has faded and the lemon scented gum vague shadow of branches moving in the wind. Skeins of raindrops scatter across this iron roof. A possum runs a tangent course urgently seeking something as nearby a Boobok calls and is answered. On a Sunday night traffic noise fades, a train horn sounds from a distance and a girl laughs to her friend on the footpath as they make their way home through the dark mist that descends at night to enclose this house as if it were magically floating in a cloud.

The wearing

The sound of car tyres on road could be a gust of wind across long grass but it is not! It could be the movement of air as a skein of pelicans flies overhead, gaining hight to take a journey working hard to discover the thermals to bear them aloft. Car and truck tyres passing in the far distance can provide a kind of sonic cairn that civilization, the possibility of travel, of movement a sense of comfort at being rooted in this spot in space and time. The constant fading and resumption of this noise, sometimes with a discordant rhythmic quality in rush hour then add water and the sound is different but still deeply wearing cutting sonic tracks across my thinking and breathing as I walk along the footpath. Drivers enclosed listening to music as the world passes by are immune to this wearing sound of tyre on road. I too contribute to this wearing pollution that must for so many living creatures be a stressful burden to constantly bear. When out with the dog I wear earplugs until turning off the road, the sound fades and I remove the earplugs to be refreshed by the song of birds, the movement of the air through trees, the distant cry of children and a violin being practiced in a nearby residence. Tyre noise the monoculture of a restless capitalism and a disconnected world from the landscape of a rich diversity of sounds.

Turning off the tap

I love the antiphonal singing of the black and white magpie lark, a dance of harmonies intermingled evoking a sense of place and of connection. One has decided that the mirror of my car poses a threat perching awkwardly this bird attacks his own image with persistence and energy determined no doubt to see off a threat so perfectly matched to his own. There is a philosophical moment of reflection about the uselessness of some of the ways I project energy when in a more reasoned moment I am engaging with an image I have created, assuming a stance and losing a wider more nuanced perspective. I want to turn off the tap of this bird. Something in me imagines the spine jarring crash of slender bill against toughened mirror glass with a sense of empathy that shakes me with discomfort. There is the concern over mirrors so expensive to replace and the need to remove the bird droppings that accumulate below the smeary mirror. I take care to remember to fold in the drivers mirror on leaving the car and closing the door. When I forget, the moment of guilt as the tap continues unabated.  This tap could be anything, a branch blowing against the porch, a mechanical tap of some domestic machine that serves a useful purpose, the drum of fingers against a table to aid immersion in a book or the tap of a hot engine cooling after the assault on the winding climbing road from the plain. A tap of gentle rain is welcome, somehow enclosing the listener in a sense of security. The wild tap of the magpie lark is dispiriting, grating into the inner being with a sense of uselessness, pain, discomfort and anxiety. Tap tap tap, this enemy in the mirror will not be defeated, this is a dual to the death unless somehow the image is so smeared in pain that the contest is too obscured to continue. Tap tap tap. Dear bird resume your wild, melodic antiphonal singing that calls forth my gratitude. Bird fly away, please!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Walking in the fog

With winter come fog and rain to the Adelaide hills. It's the experience of living within a cloud and it shapes how I feel. Wrapped up warmly stepping carefully, torch cutting a white path, a beam of light that seems alive with movement as swirls of tiny drops of water dance through the frail uncertain light. Noise is cloaked by the cloud, dampening cars and trains and the cry of birds. With this comes a soundscape conducive to silence. No long sight lines by day or even illuminated during the night. Clear outlines of trees and houses take on a smudged experience and with this swirling mist comes a sense of humility, of being in life of being subject to that which is beyond the expected. As breath steams mingling with the waterlogged air I am conscious of my footfalls, I am enclosed and I am grateful for the harsh sounds of human machinery is muffled. My mind falls silent and my body finds a rhythmic movement as I journey through dark, as rain drips on my face as I begin to anticipate a hot cup of tea as I near home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Give us today our daily silence

On a cold winter's day I stopped at Friend's House Euston, the spiritual home and administrative centre of the Religious Society of Friends near Euston Statation in London.  Hot and wholesome organic soup and excellent fair Trade Coffee sustained the body and soothed the spirit after navigating the London Underground a skill that after 20 years in another country does not return easily. Later I sat in the beautiful Meeting Room next to the bookshop, a place of luminous silence.  This was a circular, windowless space with simple wooden benches but drew one deeply into a silent space and to the heartbeat of an awareness of the Inner Light of Christ. I was fascinated to note that each day there is a ten minute Meeting for Worship for city workers, visitors and travellers. I had never come across such a brief meeting but the Spirit works in all times and spaces. Yet there was another grace, the opportunity to buy a copy of Pierre Lacout's 'God is Silence' which I read early during my sojourn with Friends.

This for me is an amazing and trans formative booklet, beautifully written by a Swiss former Carmelite Priest who later became a Friend. he died a few years ago. It has been long out of print but now is available again at the London Quaker books for just a few pounds sterling. For any philosopher of silence and for a Christian drawn to the mystery of silence this is a wonderful gift. God is silence and we pray, 'Give us this day, our daily silence'

Inviting Earth

Just recently I was part of a conversation between a group of people exploring how the Christian community might respond to the current indications of ecological catastrophe.  There were some beautiful ideas and I suggested the title 'Inviting Earth' as words of enchantment and encouragement. Another title was chosen which I think will speak more deeply and resonate with the theme of vocation.

I reflected with the group that the recovery of a day of silence, perhaps on Holy Saturday, a sabbath of listening to the Earth might be a powerful experience.  On this day or longer fast speaking and emailing, blogging and texting, driving and even reading might be laid aside to listen to the soundscape deeply and with a sense that in every square metre there is a unique experience of the material and living world.

Holy Saturday and the whole concept of Sabbath might help to cool the fires of our commercialism and especially from our noise. If a day of silence can be practiced in Bali then what a blessing it would be in our society. It will never happen because leaders in religion and in society know that when people move into silence then radical ideas can emerge as people begin to wake from their stupor and ask themselves and of others deep and profound questions.

Holy Saturday carrying with it the deep silence of absence and yet of hope is calling me. What about you?

Pyrrho of Ellis a teacher of Silence

This year I have made a spiritual journey to become the spiritual leader and teacher of a Uniting Church in Adelaide after a year of discussion and discernment.  My arrival in this place has astonished me but feels deeply right.  I thought I would never return to church ministry but sojourn on the edge of the Church, exploring philosophy and mindfulness, being part of silent Quaker Meetings and Anglican Eucharists while working in the wider world.

For some of my friends and those in my wider circle there have been searching questions.  These have been directed towards my practices of Pyrrhonism and interest in ancient scepticism.  My return to a community where language of faith and the exploration of spirituality takes place in a community setting has been of some interest and others have been disappointed thinking that I might well become a more committed Buddhist.

These questions serve to underline the subtle scepticism practiced in the ancient world. Those influenced by Sextus Empiricus who looked to the enigmatic Pyrrho of Ellis saw themselves as practitioners of a middle way.  They suspended belief in the non evident while living lives of reflection and inquiry in daily life. Unlike the Academic sceptics who doubted everything and the materialist philosophers like the Stoics and the Epicurians, the Pyrrhonists gently indicated that usually what passes as doubt involved taking up another belief. Perhaps they practiced mindfulness where often we experience the inter relatedness of all things and can suspend the kinds of thinking that is always categorising experiences into abstraction. Suspension of belief invites a process of insight, investigating the thoughts and emotions that arise rather than taking those thoughts and emotions and beliefs literally.

When once again we live in a society where abstraction and the world of the everyday have become separated, ancient Pyrrhonic scepticism can prove a path back to balance and a sense of flow. We have to remember that Pyrrho never rejected religion, was honoured as sage and priest and learned from both the ascetics of India and Greek philosophy.

David Gamez's book on 'Positive Sceptism' also invites me to move between the worlds of belief with equanimity without constantly having to engage in an internal battle of deciding what is true. Here in this placement I can honour and practice this ancient sacred way of Pyrrho in ways that are liberating for myself and I hope for others. Here I can explore what Socrates and the Platonic tradition called 'Aphoria' that astonishing experience of living with the indefinable and the mystery of being.

When we move beyond constraining literal isms and can circle back to gently explore the mysterious power and enchantment of words there is the discovering of a sense of liberation and of inner silence.
There is a modesty in this ancient and seldom explored path where ego and the desire to justify through stating belief and opinion becomes the beautiful silence of refusing to choose, of remaining balanced in the paradox between flowing everyday moments of discovery and the contingency of abstract ideas. In Pyrrho there is a spark that leaps across between Asia and the West and in gently blowing on that spark in everyday encounters and in ministry practice maybe some of those dangerous and destructive forms of literalism may find a way to track beside each other in a great and abundant silence.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist

A reader from across the globe invites me to share further memories of my visit to the Orthodox community of monks and nuns in rural Essex in January.

I dismounted from the green country bus after its labyrinthine journey through freezing English country lanes with hedgerows partially clothed allowing the fine wintry wind to course through woven branches with a feeling of anticipation.  I set off on foot down the narrow muddy lane pointed out by the friendly driver. This monastery has no web page and no email but a telephone enquiry had resulted in an invitation for me to come and see the monastery established by Father Sophrony a Russian born monk who after leaving a career as an artist in Moscow and then after the revolution in Paris had travelled to Mount Athos between the wars and had met his own geron or elder, the Russian born Silouen. Silouen was canonised in 1987 by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The famous Cistercian monk, author, hermit and prophet of the 20th century Thomas Merton says that Silouen was the most authenitic monk of the 20th century. I would like to write later on Sophrony who I see as one of the most interesting people of our time, a seeker after truth and beauty who like many of us struggle to reconcile the big questions of life. He is a truly a teacher and philosopher of silence who invites us to reflect on the silence of beauty in the Holy One to which all are called alongside the empty silence of the abyss which we have created in the West, allowing knowledge to fragment and reifying the single dimension of having and doing over value and connection, the loss of the Platonic and Neo Platonic vision.

Deeply unwell after years in solitude on Athos and now ordained priest Sophrony tells in one of his books of his return to France and of disciples gathering around him in the nursing home to practice the prayer of the heart after an experience of rejection by the Orthodox Academy over allegiance to the Church in Russia.

The Prayer of the Heart is a prayer that moves away from mental images, bringing mind into the heart, the place of life and imagination, of emotion, the very centre of the human person. In the Abrahamic religions the heart is the very epicentre the place of meeting between the Holy and the Seeker. Sophrony with friends came to the United Kingdom and the monastery was established in an old Anglican rectory and the ancient church building was used for worship. This was established in the year of my birth 1959.  Here the ancient ways stretching back beyond the desert fathers and mothers into the vibrant life of the early Christian movement met modern Britain on its own journey into secularism.

Walking down this lane with winter fields and the restless calling of blackbirds I came to the monastery which is bisected by the lane and outside tall iron gates was a nun in full black Orthodox robes showing just her face walking with a small group of young people who I discovered were Cypriot students studying in Britain. I was expected although I had not been able to forecast my time of arrival and outside the tall black gates I was warmly invited to lunch with the community.

This leads me to the sense I know is right although I can't seem to find the words that here is a community moving in several dimensions of experience. Outwardly there is the passing of clock time and space is measured in the world of the material. Inwardly there is a greater dimension where time and space and materiality are transcended and there is an inner knowing and awareness, an experience of interconnectedness.  I too move between these dimensions and am grateful for this passport although its a gift and not an achievement.  Intuition or spirituality does not do this justice but the concept of the music of silence seems to resonate deeply with this sense of flow. The graceful monastic robes are a symbol of gracious moving between dimensions and like icons those who wear such robes, as I do myself from time to time are framed in a tradition that does not obliterate or suppress our sense of individuality but enclose it in a place of invitation of depth and purpose.

Lunch was shared in the Refectory which is on the nun's side of the monastery and Sister pointed out the award given to the best conversion of hen houses into dwelling places granted by some bureaucrat from the Essex Country Council.  I wondered if the creator of such an award nurtured a sense of the ironic.  That said its hard to build in areas such as rural Essex as cities continue to sprawl outwards into rich irreplaceable land cultivated for centuries. Our group viewed the winter fields farmed by the community. Every member of the community obviously had to work hard to sustain this simple ascetic way of life.

The Refectory was decorated by iconic depictions of saints in the desert and hesychast tradition. All the chapels and the other refectory were decorated in the same way. My guide the gracious and hospitable Sister S explained that in the hesychast tradition icons were written that way (painted) to preserve the sense of the hidden way, the movement through images into the silence of the whole person in the presence of the holy whereas 'normal' icons are brightly written.

I stood among the monks dressed in my own black clerical uniform with white collar that I wore for most of my stay in the UK as an indication of pilgrimage and of discovery and also as a way of honouring my own tradition ordained within the Church of England the 'seed' Church of the Anglican Communion. It was of course a delicious, healthy sustaining lunch and afterwards I briefly greeted the Hegumen with the other guests.  It was a brief greeting but I felt very warmly accepted and affirmed, the true expression of hospitality where words were few but the experience was rich and gracious. All day I felt deeply grateful, not a gratefulness based on dependence or guilt but a sense of receiving and of hospitality.

Sister S then came to be my guide for the afternoon and slowly we toured the buildings, stopping to pray in the chapel in the old rectory, going down concrete steps to the underground mausoleum - the only way said Sister that the dead of the community was permitted to be buried by the Country Council. I was moved to stand beside the tomb of Father Sophrony and Sister Elizabeth and I placed my own Chotki on the tomb as a symbol of connection and of honouring this beautiful and trans formative way of prayer. Since visiting the UK I have carried this with me each day as a reminder and an encouragement to the silence of the heart.

There was no sense of hurry in this visit.  I was concerned about taking away this nun from her work but it was clear that I was her focus that afternoon and we finished with an agape of biscuits and tea in the other refectory. I experienced from Sister S what I hope to bring to this sense of call as a priest and philosopher of silence which is silence as availability and presence to be the frame for activity and speech.

'May I come and put the lights on for you' she asked when it was time for her to take her leave and I indicated some time for prayer and meditation in the chapel where Sophrony prayed each day. I responded that I like to pray in the darkness.  'Of course, the hesychast way' she responded as we parted. So after some time in the chapel and a visit to the shop to buy some icon reproductions of Saint Silouan of the Holy Mountain it was time for me to complete the circle and travel back to London.

I am deeply grateful for the hospitality I received at Tollshunt Knights and the experience will remain with me of abiding in a great silence where the world of the senses and the material world, of time and space are taken up, transformed and renewed in the greater silence of the unity of the holy God, the ground and origin of all being.

As always such encounters take me back to the sense that I am always a beginner in the adventure of the spiritual journey and that my many mistakes have their origin of failing to live and work from an inner sense of being at home and of inner connection.  My constant unwisdom originates in a desire to live from the expectations of others and this always lacks this sense of holistic hospitality experienced at Tollshunt Knights.

Thanks to those who asked me to write on this theme.

Music that evokes silence

Silence and Music dance together like binary stars in the universe, holding each other in place and illuminating the sky in a great fire of movement and participation. This is the silence and melody which is transforming and renewing of the human spirit and of the environment not the music and silence at war with each other that forces apart our inner sense of rhythm and connection.

As I sit here this early autumn morning looking into a view scape of trees along a creek bed with a kookaburra hunting before my window, a gentle breeze stirring golden leaves on european trees I listen with delight to music by Toshio Hosokawa, JS Bach and Isang Yun and played by Thomas Demenga, an ECM new series CD.  This music seems to be deeply embedded in the natural, to flow and move like water in the creek flowing by, evoking the music of the soul.

How does music speak to you? It may be music you make for we like songbirds seem created to sing and make music and for many of the same reasons, the most important of which is that music expresses the soul with great lamentation as well as thankfulness and adoration, immersion in the ebbs and flows of life and to express our migratory flights in faith and imagination. Music may also be the music we listen to which we may choose to surround our moments of meditation and silence, of resting and being.
I am less inclined to use music as a background these days unless I am tired or on long car journeys where music can sharpen my senses and attunement.

May I commend to you the small group of readers who sojourn here possibly by mistake that you may explore the ECM catalogue? Pax Vobiscum!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Treatment - the silent listener played by Gabriel Byrne

'In Treatment' is a TV series starring Gabriel Byne as a therapist which can be viewed now on DVD with series three becoming available in Australia later in 2012. We witness his therapy sessions and the variety of the clients who consult with him.  Each has an appointment so the viewer must wait until the coming week in the series to follow the thread of the client's story.  At the conclusion of each week the therapist meets with his supervisor and there we experience how the character reflects on his life and what it means to him to be a therapist. The series is based according to the credits on an Israeli series.

Silence creates spaces for discovery. Often the client will attempt to draw the therapist into their life story desiring approval, a deeper relationship, the object of their desire or of their rejection. The therapist often will draw the energy to a new level of self discovery. This is not always the case since sometimes he is unable to stand back and intervenes. On occasions this is beneficial but not always. For me In Treatment is a very human drama, a dance of exploration and the opportunity to reflect on my own life as a human being and as a therapist.

Intimacy is the question around which questions revolve since the couch is often the place where the therapist experiences more intimacy than they have ever experienced in being listened to without judgement in a safe and therapeutic environment. The therapist must hold the space and hold the silence and I often admire his caution and reserve and his ability to avoid the kinds of snares that the clients consciously or unconsciously place within the flow of words and sometimes actions.

'In Treatment' sounds like 'entreatment' a form of asking and of seeking for something from the other. I admire the silence, the deep listening abilities of the character in this series and his ability to mentally stand back from the story to see a wider space and to encourage the client to look in that direction.

In a society of ready answers where talk can be cheap and where this is a presupposition that a person must respond to spoken or written questions and where not to share something of oneself is considered a social sin or an act of rudeness, 'In Treatment' encourages me to be more silent, more reticent so that when I do speak I move the conversation to a place of discovery. Yet while silent, the therapist played by Gabriel Byrne makes eye contact, plays with his spectacles, nods his head and as the viewer from outside the room in this fictional narrative, gives me the impression of fully listening to the conversation within the remembrance of past conversations.

To be silent then is to open space, to help the other discover choices, strengths and insights and to refrain from rescuing the other and so perpetuating old patterns and habits.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

dead quiet

A priest friend who used to be the chaplain to a large hospital for the mentally ill spoke to me about the dead quiet that pervaded the place. He said it was the silence of patient files sitting on endless shelves and of staff that had given up hope in a place of shuffling feet and lost people. I can readily imagine the mental energy of such a place, a kind of emptiness and lostness where the exercise of compassion might seem to fall forgotten in a place of profound forgetting.

How might the wider community bring to such places the silence of solidarity, of remembrance of holding in loving kindness.  How might a silence of deep listening and of deep presence in thought, prayer and appreciation change the energy of such places, underfunded, burdened by too much to accomplish. I imagine those endless rows of files waiting in a dusty sunlight through unwashed windows. I think of my priest friend seeking to live by the spirit of the Eucharist when so often asked why he bothered and 'we don't want religion here' comments by staff. I admire his perseverance and his noble silence as he sought to be present with a warm humanity and the light of faith in that void.

Hermits and Recluses

What is the difference between a hermit and a recluse? For me a hermit in whatever Tradition goes into solitude either in a rural setting or a city motivated by a plan for living and exploration, thinking and healing, worship or poetry, philosophy and connection with the deeper movements of life. A geographical distance from others is a strategy and not a telos or goal. A hermit is motivated by the desire to become.  A recluse is escaping and turning away from human company, a fugitive from life. Maybe for some who seek solitude either on an occasional or more long lasting basis are conscious of these two voices. Australia despite all the emphasis on participation and mateship always has seemed to leave a place open to those who desired to go bush and in the past eccentricity was prized. I suggest this tolerance is less appreciated today.

How might one frame this question in terms of cultivating silence? A retreat to a quiet place and immersion in a natural sound scape of birdsong and water, the beach or the wind blowing across gum trees, or quiet moment of retreat in a busy city might be considered reclusive if motivated by a resentment of people and noise, an inner anger or a spirit of elitism. One motivated by the eremitic spirit retreats either within to a peaceful inner centre, or to a quiet place out of compassion for herself as neighbour to oneself, or to be refreshed in spirit and body to return again to people.  Those who are live in more extended times of solitude may like Thomas Merton and others feel closer to the world's heartbeat and sorrows than those who are geographically situated close to other people.

As someone who for health and well being requires quiet oasis throughout the day for renewal I am appreciative that often I am able to find those spaces even in crowds and noise and embrace the hermit spirit. Sometimes when I am resentful of noise and of the loudness of contemporary city life its a reminder that this is reclusive behaviour and for my own flourishing I require to seek out a quiet place to breathe and renew.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

travelling in silence.

There has been a deep silence from this writer and it is indeed the silence of an absence and indeed a reluctance to write during a season of transition especially when a new way of life involves speaking and writing in ways which evoke the inner journey.

Let me begin again and return to an encounter during January on my study visit to Britain.

I want to share the experience of public transport in the UK. When staying with my sister and her family in Chingford I had a delightful visit to the Orthodox monastery at Tollshunt Knights in rural Essex during January.  I travelled by rural bus after a very careful investigation on the Internet about travel options.

One morning I got off a fast but grubby electric train from Liverpool Street at Witham and waited for the bus in the intense cold drinking a coffee from a van outside the station. There was a delightful young woman there who was even colder than me although covered in many layers of clothing and the coffee was okay even though heated to thermonuclear temperatures.

The bus arrived on time (only two a day) and we wended our way into the country along narrow lanes under bare trees.  I had asked another passenger at the stop about the route and from time to time we talked as we journeyed our way through wintry countryside.  This was a local bus and everyone seemed to know one another, so after arriving at the nearest stop the driver called out and he and few others pointed me in the right direction with cheery messages of good advice and good luck.

On my return the bus arrived to the minute and it was similar local experience of conversation and community back to Witham. Then the journey back to London.

Given my self appointed vocation as philosopher of silence I choose to travel in a 'silence' carriage on several occasions across the UK by train and anticipated being able to settle into a corner with a book, and gaze out the window in a soothing reverie.

Now its true that only a few people transgressed the rule of using a mobile phone. In other carriages and in many restaurants people seemed to shout into them, but at every station there were many electronic announcements, repeated little homilies about not leaving luggage behind and other possibly unnecessary information.  London buses had the same style messages with automated voices telling us what the destination of the bus would be, together with the next stop.

This 'light year' advance in transport seems to me to be unnecessary given that now there are electronic destination boards on buses and trains and I presume that if you can't see well or are a stranger that its possible to ask another person or check before boarding the conveyance. Perhaps its all about risk avoidance or a tacit assumption that everyone has no memory and no initiative. A moderate amount of audio information perhaps in different languages could perhaps be more effective.

The country bus to the monastery was not quiet but the communication was courteous, respectful and evoked community as opposed to the announcements that made travelling even in a silent train carriage a noisy and indeed a stressful experience. Even as a visitor I ceased to listen to the repetitious notice about checking for belongings.  The words simply became noise.

This then opens up reflection on the theme of constant repetition. I guess that repetitious speech within the context of a personal relationship carries weight, it becomes a ritual of connecting and caring within the right context of respect but electronic information can be akin to lift music, a sheer invasion of space where less is more and therefore takes on more value since it suggests that another person has thought through what might be significant. I am not suggesting there be no announcements but that these be brief and not repeated over and over again. Perhaps I am in a minority here since we may have become so attuned to endless announcements everywhere we go that we can't be responsible without being told every five minutes what we need to do treated like children.

However if I bring this home to myself and ask the question "how often are my words offered without thought and without care used as a way of self defence or self justification?"