by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer
The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part two* of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.
My two favorite role models have shown me the fruits of silence. These role models are—drum roll, please—Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. They are two serene and wise men who are so in tune with their surroundings that their every word and action is powerfully beneficial. How do they do it? How do they always know what’s going on, and how do they always know how to make it right? They don’t do it by chattering their heads off. They are intensely attentive. They choose their words carefully. They know when their world needs them to talk, but otherwise they settle back and let the world do its thing.
We have another role model who demonstrates the same art: St. Francis de Sales. We know how much he achieved, and he did it with silence. When he was serving as bishop of Annecy, after his long and hectic days, he would retreat to his room and—when you or I would probably fall straight to sleep—sat up for hours and meditated by candlelight. This fulfillment of his need for silence let him accomplish his loving acts with people during the day.
If you’ve ever tried to be quiet, though, it immediately becomes apparent that not talking isn’t the whole story. It’s a big part, but you could not talk and still not be attentive. It’s like there are two voices: one in your mouth, and one in your head. You have to stop talking to listen, but you have to stop thinking to hear.
I don’t know about you, but I have this voice in my head that loves to talk. It is always going on about something: what’s for dinner, what are you doing, what were you thinking, what did you forget, wasn’t that so frustrating? It’s a little voice that just talksandtalksandtalksandtalks. It’s really distracting. Mine is especially problematic during prayer. A whole Bible passage will be read, and I’ll be sitting there—not listening.
Even Jesus told us that learning to control our thoughts is extremely important. He told us on His Sermon on the Mount that yes, it’s important not to kill, but it’s also important not to get angry at our brother. Anger is a thought. If we can’t control our thoughts, then we are very vulnerable to sin.
Since I have started practicing silence, there are times when I’m aware that my brain has ceased to think. There are no thoughts, opinions, or emotions in my head. I am just living in the present moment, enjoying life.
When my mind is silent, it is free to focus on the world around me. It is open to details like how my friends are feeling, what’s going on in their lives, what they need from me. I can be truly attentive. To have a silent mind is to be cleansed, to leave a free ground for God to interpret any new information for me. When I’m not thinking, I’m not quick to judge.