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Blog by Alan Seale, March 15, 2021 | Deep Listening

It’s a bright, sunny, cold, brisk day. It’s also the day that I must write my next blog post and newsletter article. Seeking inspiration, I’ve been on two walks, played the piano, and looked through my ever-expanding collection of quotes. Yet as I sit down to write, I am still without a topic. And so it is. I touch my fingers to the keyboard to see what will unfold, trusting that the words will come. 

I should know by now that the act of starting to write will create a spark. Something will happen. Indeed, just by typing “trusting that the words will come,” something inside begins to stir. My memory flashes back to moments when, in fact, trust was all I had to lean on. And suddenly, words come quickly and an article I hadn’t expected starts to write itself.  

Finding what to say or what to do…or perhaps finding the power of silence

At least once in your life, you have probably experienced a moment when you had no idea what to say or do, yet somehow you found your way.

Maybe it was a time when a situation was unravelling incredibly fast, and you had to act quickly. You heard yourself saying things that, until that moment, you wouldn’t have known to say. And you did things you wouldn’t have known you could do.  

Or maybe it was a moment when something precious or tragic or surreal had just happened. Time suddenly stopped. And there you were, at a loss for what to say. The silence was deafening. Yet by some miracle, in just the right moment, you started talking and somehow the right words came.  

I admit that I’ve also had some wrong-words-at-the-wrong-time moments – moments when, as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. Maybe you have, too. 

Yet, probably, you have also experienced at least one of those miraculous moments. 

And then there are times when there simply are no words. There is nothing to say. There is only being present and holding space. The touch of a hand, the sound of breath, the knowing that someone else is there. Being fully present with everything that is happening. Trusting, and being unconditional love and blessing.   

When silence is a gift

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen is one of the pioneers of Integrative Medicine and Relationship-Centered Care. Her words about listening and silence always touch me deeply. This particular quote comes to me now. 

Perhaps the most important thing
we bring to another person is
the silence in us.
Not the sort of silence that is
filled with unspoken criticism
or hard withdrawal. 
The sort of silence that is
a place of refuge,
of rest,
of acceptance
of someone as they are.

Rachel Naomi Remen

Throughout this pandemic year, I have found great refuge in silence. Silence with myself, silence with Johnathon and our dogs sitting by the fire. Silence in meditation, silence with groups and clients in Zoom calls. Silence with my mother in her final days. Silence with my heart as I celebrated the wonderful woman who gave me life and, at the same time, deeply mourned her passing. 

Silence with intention can be a healing balm

There have been so many moments this past year when being with others, even if remotely, was actually about refuge, rest, and acceptance. Times when intentional, embracing, loving silence was the perfect balm. Times when full presence actually gave us the trust to let there be no words.  

Silence without intention can be confusing. It can be intrepreted as criticism or withdrawal and feel incredibly lonely. Like not being seen or heard – like no one is there. Like there is no support, no solid ground to stand on. 

Yet when we bring our deep silence to another with full intention – when we can be the embodiment of love and come from a place of trust and stillness within ourselves – there is no more powerful gift. 

Intentional silence as a practice

We can only give that gift, however, when we are able to go to that place within for ourselves. We have to know how to rest in our own deep inner silence, and let it be filled with and supported by Love. 

For most of us, that is a practice. It doesn’t just happen on its own. In fact, it’s a place that we as a culture have forgotten how to access. Sometimes we even run away from this deep silence because if offers no place to hide. Everything we are feeling and experiencing comes to the surface in that silence. 

However, when that silence is intentional and unconditional, there is acceptance. Whatever is happening is accepted simply as what is happening – no more, no less. Whatever we are feeling is accepted as simply what we are feeling. Our feelings may define the space and the moment, yet they do not define who we are. They simply define our experience.

How often do you create this kind of intentional silence for yourself? How often do you allow yourself to rest in deep stillness?   

The more we feel at home with ourselves in this deep silence, the more we can provide that refuge, rest, and acceptance for others – a space where they can feel held, seen, and heard, both in their experience of the moment and in the wholeness of who they are. And when we create that space, we can trust that if words are needed, they will come. 

Deep, intentional silence. It’s the most precious gift we can give.