Monday, July 21, 2014

Pregnant Silence

"Calm at Sunset"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

It's always pretty quiet out here in the desert where I live; but at this time of the year the quiet turns into  silence - sometimes profound silence.  With triple digit daytime temperatures, it's too hot for tourists to visit - just a few if any hikers, no bicycles, not even the sound of passing cars for the most part. 

Last night I realized that there is one particular time of day when the silence becomes more pronounced than ever. Just after the sun sets when the afternoon winds subside, and there is a total calm in the air, the birds go to sleep for the night, there is a hint of stars in the desert sky, the silence is so profound that it almost borders on being frightening. 

There was a time in my life where I would have done almost anything to avoid silence - I was so afraid of it.  I needed constant sounds to make me feel comfortable. I would walk into a room and rush to turn on a radio, a stereo, a TV set.  And I always needed words, always swimming in an ocean of words so that my mind could be constantly occupied, fooling myself into believing that I had answers and that I was in control.  

But now I embrace the silence. The silence at sunset on a summer's night in the desert is so very "pregnant" for me - so filled with an abundant sense of Presence. The silence of the desert calls me to a precipice where I lose my footing and tumble into a chasm - pulled off my perch in that comfortable world of glib words and quick answers, where with utter abandon I fall into the arms of "God." 

Last night as the sun set and I entered into that zone of pregnant silence, I was well aware that there was a ringing in my ears. When I first moved out here I would hear that sound of ringing in my ears and thought something was wrong with me, so I went to have my hearing tested and discovered that my hearing was just fine and that people often hear a ringing sound in a place like a desert where the only sound is silence. 

As the sun went down last night I remembered something I had read in the poet Richard Rodriguez' book, Darling:A Spiritual Autobiography.  In an effort to be more deeply in touch with his own Christian roots, Rodriguez made a trip to the Holy Land and one day he wound up deep inside the stark Judean wilderness just outside of Gaza accompanied by his Bedoin guide, Haim: 

Abruptly Haim tells me to stop.
'Listen! The desert has a silence like no other,' he says.
'Do you hear the ringing in your ear? It is the bell of existence.'

When I first read this passage I totally "got it." This is exactly what I hear in the pregnant silence of a calm desert at sunset. I hear the sound of existence. I am "at one with" all that exists and the sound that rings in my ear is the bell of life.

As I see it, you don't have to live in a desert to hear the sound of a pregnant silence. There is way too much noise in the ordinary world of everyday living -too many loud sounds and way too many words. But anyone can turn off the iTunes, shut off the TV, close down all the words, and walk into a quiet room, find a bench in a local park, maybe even sit in a silent church or temple and


Listen for the bell of existence ringing in your ear.  


  1. Beautiful Paul. It is a synchronicity of sorts that you should post this today. I had just finished the first draft of a poem and then I saw your link. It seems we are on the same frequency. Let me share it with you.

    I got the poem honed down to the extent it is and it will simmer for a while and then I will know what is to be done to it or if it is finished. Sharing it with you first. I wrote it thinking of how the news fills the ears and mind and causes fear and displaces that part of me that should be silent.

    A clattering
    fills the space within
    and I can’t hear you crying.

    Only in silence
    do I know you are there,
    only then do I hear you sighing.

    1. Thank you-beautiful! It reminds me of a friend who just came back from a 30 day silent retreat--she was with 15 other people and there was never any talking among them, but when she left she felt as if she had come to know each person intimately.

  2. I've begun to think my journey has come to a fork in the trail prodding me to take a the path of information deprivation. Not speaking as your friend did is cleansing.

    I see the news and it is all hate and lies. What does that do to the mind? Well it engages it with hate and lies. Even if you know and resist the hate and lies they lead to solutions which will never work because they are the outside of the container.

    In silence the container can be filled from the inside. Making repairs to the outside is what has always been tried and here we are still repairing.

    Kindness, sympathy, empathy are healing. Only a person can have those characteristics. I believe my path has come to a juncture. Knowledge sometimes amounts to confusion because there is so much. In silence there is time to BE.