As my friend entered the restaurant and sat down at the table to join me for breakfast, I closed the book I was reading, “Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness” by Robert Sardello.

The book aroused his curiosity. “You’re reading a book about silence? How’s that working out for you?” While his quick wit is part of his charm, my body language caused him to shift to a more genuine question: “Is the book about being quiet?”

“It’s not about being quiet or even about being silent, it’s about entering into silence,” I replied. While I was a bit surprised by my response, I realized my perspective had been unfolding during the past year as I buried myself in this book.

While it is a slender book, it took me almost a year to finish reading it. It’s the type of book you read very slowly, savoring each word, developing a relationship you hope will never end.

In his book, Robert Sardello offers a new insight into silence. Silence is offered as an experience of self-realization that deepens our relationship with the world. By opening the door to silence, it leads us on a different journey, one of renewal, restoration and wholeness.

Silence is always present. It precedes us and it embraces us. I have come to understand that silence is not something we do; it’s something we become.

Most spiritual traditions and practices place a high level of importance on silence and listening. This is often the lens we use to reflect on the questions of who we are and how we are to live.

The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once referred to silence as “the furnace of transformation.” Transformation takes place when we are truly present in the silence.

Silence begets silence, allowing us to enter into a deeper experience of awakening.

Rumi wrote: Sit quietly, and listen for a voice that will say, be more silent.

Like many of us, I can be guilty of over-thinking things. Thinking about silence or being quiet is not the same as experiencing silence. We often think about silence in terms of listening. As we listen, we expect to receive an answer or to hear a reply. As we enter into silence, we can learn to patiently wait in our listening without feeling the need to fill the emptiness or to hear a response.

During an interview, journalist Dan Rather once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “What do you say to God in your prayers?” Mother Teresa replied: “I don’t say anything, I listen.” A bit puzzled by her response, Rather then asked Mother Teresa: “What does God say to you in your prayers?” She responded: “God doesn’t say anything. God listens.”

While we live with the constant sounds of our own thoughts and emotions, as we enter into silence, we can experience it as a gift that brings reflection and new insight.

Awakening our souls in the way of silence is a joyful experience. It is not a path; it simply requires us to meet the silence and embrace it.

This entrance into silence is beyond being quiet or focusing inward; it’s a fuller experience of being welcomed into all that is around us and all that touches us in the world.

The fundamental experience of silence is intimacy – a profound sense of connectedness to ourselves and to the world. We experience ourselves as a whole person understanding who we are and what we are to do.

Mark Nepo, spiritual writer, poet and philosopher, highlights a story originating in India about a quiet and kind person who prayed every morning at the Ganges River. One morning, he saw a poisonous spider struggling in the water.

He rescued the spider and brought it to shore. When the man placed the spider on the shore, the spider stung the man. Unbeknownst to the man, his daily prayers for the world diluted the poison.

The next day, the same thing happened. On the third day, the man saw the spider again frantically struggling in the water. When the man reached out to help the spider, the spider asked him: “Why do you keep helping me? Don’t you understand that I will keep stinging you – because this is what I do.” As the man gently lifted the spider, he responded: “because this is what I do.”

When we become part of the world rather than observing it, we realize our role may be to help the spider even if the spider stings us. We come to realize the sting may or may not harm us, yet it is what we do.

As we finished breakfast, I shared with my friend the comfort brought by my acceptance of the gift of silence. It is a comfort that is more powerful and stronger than any sting.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.comcv