Category Archives: Episodes

Silence in Conflict (Episode 8)

What role does silence play in human conflicts? This question recognizes that silence may have a positive role to play — in helping to prevent or resolve conflicts — but that it could also have a negative role to play, as one one or more parties to a conflict use silence as a “weapon” to prevent reconciliation.

“When silence is done ‘right,’ silence can disarm us. Emotionally, physically, disarm us. It strips us of our ego. It takes us to that sacred center and allows us to try to learn how to love.” — Cassidy Hall

This week Kevin, Cassidy and Carl reflect on how we have experienced silence in conflict, in both creative and challenging ways.

From the old activist slogan “Silence = Death” to Audre Lorde’s challenging declaration “your silence will not protect you,” we examine how conflict reveals the different ways that we think about, or talk about, or use silence, especially when engaged in a struggle with another person or group.

“If the silence is being used to punish… then that’s not really silence in the way I talk about encounter or beholding, that’s actually noise. Using silence as a word, as a ‘No’ to someone as opposed to the other silence which is an absolute ‘Yes.’”— Kevin Michael Johnson

Should there be two words for silence? Is the “silence” that dominates or obstructs reconciliation really a type of psychic or spiritual “noise”?

We look at how silence can sometimes provide a “buffer” in the midst of an escalating family conflict, or how extreme emotions seem to propel us to a place of silence — where, by grace, we might regain our center and thereby begin the process of reconciliation, or at least recognize that beneath the feelings of conflict (anger, and rage) might lurk even more unsettling feelings such as fear.

“Silence is a democratic material. It allows everybody to have equal platform and equal voice, because if nobody’s talking, nobody is dominating.” — Helen Lees

What is the relationship between silence and listening? Can silence invite us into a place where, separated by conflict, we can learn to be together again? If politics is about power, how does silence invite us into vulnerability? What is the relationship between silence and the stories we tell, to foster relationship and reconciliation? These, and other questions, shape our conversation and exploration in this episode.

“Silence has something really creative to offer into a conflict situation. Whether it’s creating the space to listen, creating the space to cool-down or calm down, creating the space where we can invite all parties into a vulnerability.” — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Episode 8: Silence in Conflict
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: November 14, 2017

“If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words.” — Anonymous

Patrick Shen: Creating in Silence (Episode 7)

With this episode, Encountering Silence features our first conversation with a special guest — Patrick Shen, the director of the luminous and thought-provoking documentary film In Pursuit of Silence, which he describes as “a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives.”

Incidentally, the three hosts of Encountering Silence first met each other through Maggie Ross as a result of her being interviewed for this film, so it’s fair to say that the film is the raison d’être for this podcast.

I’m just not that interested in making films anymore that add more to the noise. I’m interested in making films that point to this realm beyond the words, beyond the imagery. — Patrick Shen

Patrick shares with us how he came to be inspired to create his movie, the unlikely role that heavy metal music played in his early life (helping push him to an appreciation of silence!), to the “existential curiosity” that propelled his creativity as a filmmaker.

Our conversation explores the relationship between silence and death, the tension between the spirituality of the creative search and the work the creative process itself; how his relationship with silence is changing the way he works, and much more.

We all get this idea that silence is this magical sort of space, this magical material; and we want it to be infused in our daily life, we want it to be infused with every breath that we take and every moment of our day, and so I’ve become really fascinated with this idea of work evolving from that place, rather than the work imitating or being a representation of that engagement. — Patrick Shen

Patrick Shen’s award-winning films, including Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality, The Philosopher Kings, and La Source, have been screened at over a hundred and twenty film festivals across the globe and broadcast in over twenty-five territories. He was the recipient of the 2009 Emerging Cinematic Vision Award from Camden International Film Festival. Since 2012 Patrick has been lecturing and teaching filmmaking workshops all over the globe as a film envoy for the U.S. State Department and the USC School of Cinematic Arts for their American Film Showcase. His latest film In Pursuit of Silence premiered to sold-out audiences in November 2015 at the Copenhagen International Film Festival. A companion book to the film, Notes from Silence, will be released in February 2018.
Find Patrick Shen online at www.patrickshen.com or

 

A lot of us when we step into silence, at least initially, find our narratives or identity stripped away, and it’s a lot like a little death of sorts, and it’s terrifying. — Patrick Shen

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Episode 7: Creating in Silence: A Conversation with Patrick Shen
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson
Guest: Patrick Shen
Date Recorded:
January 12, 2018

IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE Trailer from Cinema Guild on Vimeo.

Our Silence Heroes (Episode 6)

Who are your “silence heroes” — persons, living or dead, famous or obscure, who inspired or mentored or otherwise encouraged your encounter, and/or ongoing relationship, with silence? This is the question that the three co-hosts of this podcast explore in this episode. Cassidy, Carl and Kevin talk about the spiritual leaders, mystics, poets, writers, and other key figures who have helped us to “meet” silence more fully in our lives.

When you really meet silence, when you really encounter silence, it reminds you that you’re good enough, as is — whatever you’re doing, whoever you are, it reminds you that you’re good enough, because it is a place of love, it is a place of self-encounter, it is a place of the encounter of the Divine, of God. — Cassidy Hall

We talk about how our silence heroes inspire us — how they encourage us to love, to embrace nature, to write and enjoy poetry, to be sacred nonconformists, to preserve stillness,  teach us how to talk about silence (or how to be silent with silence!), give us both theoretical and practical approaches to silence — all the while using their lyrical and poetic voices to encourage us to be, likewise, the “poets of our own lives” — lives in which silence “allows our own selves to actually come forward and speak.”

We are all poets of our own lives and silence allows our own selves to actually come forward and speak. — Kevin Johnson

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

At one point Carl mentions Martin Thornton when he’s actually talking about Martin Laird, so in all fairness to his Freudian slip, here’s a book worth reading from that author:

Silence is the tomb of Christ —  a place of infinite possibility.
— A Monk of New Melleray Abbey

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

For language to be sane, it needs to be suffused with silence; and for silence to be accessible, it needs to be held in language… to be a human being who wishes to enter deeply into the cave of silence, our sherpa will be language. — Carl McColman

Episode 6: Our Silence Heroes
Hosted by:
Kevin Johnson
With:
Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
November 13, 2017

Encountering Silence in Relationships (Episode 5)

What does it mean to encounter silence in the midst of our most intimate relationships? Unless you are an absolute hermit, other people factor in your life. From children and spouses, to nephews and neighbors, co-workers and companions, to be human is to be in relationship — and sometimes, relationships can be noisy places indeed.

In this episode we explore some paradoxical approaches to silence — for example, Kevin speaks eloquently of finding the silence even in the midst of a baby’s cry. He goes on to compare the challenges of balancing one’s own needs with the needs of loved ones to the dance of attention in a meditation practice — between awareness of silence and the inevitable irruption of distracting thoughts.

Keep the silence and stillness within. Because it’s always there, right? It’s always there. If you’ve met it once, if you’ve met it twice, if you’ve met it every day of your life, you know it’s there, it’s within. — Cassidy Hall

But there’s also the “inner relationship” — how we relate to our own self. Carl muses on how sometimes anxiety and depression come to call — and can make it challenging to remember that silence is always, already there.

In all our relationships — whether internal or external — silence calls us out of a place of self-focus into a place where we can be concerned with loving others — or welcoming whatever arises in the context of our lives. Silence teaches us that silence is always present — even in the midst of a baby’s cry, even in the midst of rage or fear or bitter loneliness.

We look at the monastic notion of the “school of love,” considering how silence is actually an instructor in the school of love — teaching us how to love others, as well as to love ourselves. But we also acknowledge that in relationships silence can sometimes be a way of avoiding intimacy — where “unheld conversations” can  signify a kind of external silence which masks interior noise. Again, though, silence can be the doorway through which we move to find reconciliation or greater intimacy — even if it means moving through “the fire” of conflict or challenging conversations.

Our conversation includes some thoughts on the sometimes contentious relationship between silence and language, and how poetry represents a way to bridge that particular gap.

What is a poem? A poem is just a useless spray of language. And yet, in that useless spray of language we find beauty, we find meaning, we find insight, we find connection, we find ourselves.— Carl McColman

Among the resources and authors we mention in this episode were poems by Rumi and Thomas Merton, and mention of the work of Cynthia Bourgeault as well as the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers, particularly in regard to the deadly or afflictive thoughts. The following resources can help you learn more:

To learn more about the desert tradition of non-attachment to afflictive thoughts:

What’s the connection between words and silence is that they’re so interpenetrated that you need to have them both. You actually can speak yourself into the silence…  The only problem with words is that we get  trapped in them. — Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Plan?!? What plan?

Episode 5: Encountering Silence in Relationships
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
November 13, 2017

Encountering Silence as Adults (Episode 4)

Continuing the conversation that began with Episodes 1 and 2, we now turn to the question of how our relationship to silence can evolve over time.

We take a closer look at how encountering silence has nurtured our faith in God — and how monasteries, churches, museums, the wilderness, and even a documentary film has played a role in our lives as each of us has “pursued” silence (or, perhaps we should say, how silence has pursued us).


We explore how silence has been a teacher to each of us, teaching us the ways of silence, teaching us to simply “let silence be” and approach it in a spirit of humility and openness. We discuss the limitations of academic scholarship (at least in terms of relating to silence), the challenge of moving beyond dualisting thinking when relating to silence, and how essential art and poetry have been to us when it comes to our evolving relationship with silence — and our shared recognition that there is a deep intimacy between silence and beauty. We also look at silence as the center around which aesthetics, theology, and liturgy all revolve — each points back to the silence, which in turn “hosts” each of these ways of human knowing and expression.

Silence for me has always been wrapped up with the question of the Divine. — Kevin Johnson

It’s so interesting to engage with a material that is not a material. It’s like clothing a bodiless body. you can’t do it, but we’re forever trying. That’s why this keeps constantly pointing me back to God because it’s another aspect of my life that certainty always fails me. It’s in the unknowing that I know. It’s in my extreme amount of doubt that my faith is. It’s the tension pieces, the paradox pieces. — Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Carl quotes Acts 17:28: “In Him we live and move and have our being” — which comes from a sermon of Saint Paul, who in turn is quoting the pagan poet Epimenides.

The words are printed on the page just as the space between the ink is the page. It’s all the page. There is a real presence of silence in the most ear-splitting noise. — Carl McColman


Kevin Johnson
is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Episode 4: Encountering Silence As Adults
Hosted by:
Carl McColman
With:
Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded:
October 23, 2017

Encountering Silence During the Holidays (Episode 3)

The Holiday Season can be joyful and/or stressful, which means this is a time when silence remains as important as ever.  Join us for this special episode where Cassidy, Kevin and Carl talk about how we nurture a contemplative dimension to our holiday experience, without getting moralistic or legalistic about silence, but also retaining a sense of just how vital silence is to us at this time of the year.

In this episode, we explore how silence is devalued in our culture (and why we need to resist that cultural prejudice), the relationship between silence and intentionality, how “letting go” is a portal into silence, the danger of “the materialism of information,” how the spiritual concept of incarnation takes us outside of our comfort zone, how the body is our best friend for surviving the holidays, and much more.

When we name silence, we lose it… As soon as we touch the word urgency to the lips of silence, we lose a sincere intimacy. So how do we maintain silence as urgent and important in our lives without making it legalistic, or precisely what it isn’t? — Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

The Zen Proverb (“Quit Trying; Quit Trying Not to Try; Quit Quitting”) shows up in:

And one more book that this episode makes us think of:

You actually have to stop trying… if you attempt to be silent, if you make it an urgent goal, well then you never get there, silence never actually comes, there has to be kind of a letting go. — Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Episode 3: Encountering Silence During the Holidays
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
December 19, 2017

Note: our next episode will be released on or about January 3, 2018. In the meantime, we wish you a merry Christmas (or the joyful observance of the holiday of your tradition) and a very happy new year.

 

Encountering Silence In Adolescence (Episode 2)

How do we encounter silence in our teen years? Alone, or with others? In the woods, or at a church? With a sense of ecstasy, or perhaps even a healthy dose of “adolescent angst”?

In this episode we continue the conversation about “meeting” silence in the days of our youth, this week focusing on our adolescence. Like in the previous episode, such encounters carry a variety of meanings and invitations into deeper reflection, including:

  • The relationship between silence, nature, solitude, and spirit (Spirit);
  • How silence can emerge out of even a noisy time in one’s life;
  • How silence transcends religion and spirituality to be a universal gift;
  • How silence can meet us even in unintended ways and settings;
  • The surprising way silence comes to us in mystical ways — and how even the most exalted mystical “experience” seems to carry its own challenges or difficulties;
  • Pondering the relationship between silence and questions.

I was immediately filled with questions, and I was immediately filled with, ‘Why? What did I just do? Why did I do it?’ and looking back upon that, to me, that was God in that experience — the questions; because I’ve always been a curious person, because God was in that mystery and the silence and the loneliness of that moment. — Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Some of the albums Carl loved as a teenager include:

And while we didn’t mention them in this episode, our favorite monastic author and favorite documentary on silence always deserve a shout out:

It’s beyond words, there’s no way to describe this, but it really did make me feel that the world was a lot weirder than I thought it was, for the very first time, and I realized that my categories didn’t make sense… — Kevin Johnson

Photo by Cassidy Hall

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Episode 2: Encountering Silence In Adolescence
Hosted by:
Kevin Johnson
With:
Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
October 10, 2017

Encountering Silence in Childhood (Episode 1)

What do you remember about encountering silence in your childhood?

In this episode we explore our first memories of “meeting” silence in childhood, moments in time where, whether in solitude or with others, whether near or far from home, whether shaped by emotional confusion or a sense of simply being present, something graced and mysterious intruded upon our awareness and brought us face to face, not only with the beauty of silence, but also with the mystery of our own deepest and truest selves.

From a lakeside in Virginia, to a Connecticut playground, to a prairie in Iowa, each of our memories involves being out-of-doors. And each of us struggles to put into words what ultimately seems to remain elusive, beyond what language can contain.

I all of a sudden felt extremely safe, completely at home, and there was a sense of I was much bigger than my body, that like somehow I was more than what I thought I was, and… I guess the word is ‘presence,’ a sense of that I just felt very — that there was something, there was more there than me.
— Kevin Johnson

As our conversation weaves in and around our shared, remembered moments of encounter, we talk about what it means to be present in our bodies, a sense of timelessness or eternity that sometimes seems to accompany the encounter with silence, and the dance of deep feeling, “not-knowing,” and longing that shaped our most profound moments of silence — even at a very early age.

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Margery (aka “Carl’s cat”)

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Episode 1: Encountering Silence in Childhood
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded:
October 2, 2017

Pilot Episode: Meet the Hosts of Encountering Silence

Meet Kevin Johnson, Cassidy Hall, and Carl McColman. We are the hosts and co-creators of Encountering Silence.

This podcast emerged from our friendship, the friendship of three people with a shared interest in the many important ways silence makes a difference our lives — looking at silence in terms of spirituality, of health, of art and aesthetics, of psychology and wisdom. Silence matters, and yet it is a difficult topic to talk about, let alone to deeply and truly understand.

We realize that “talking about silence” is paradoxical, and yet we think it’s also vital, especially given how increasingly noisy our society is. We hope that this pilot episode represents the first few words in an ongoing conversation about what silence is, why silence matters, and how we can all learn to encounter silence more truly and deeply.

Some of the resources we mention in this episode:

Our dream for this podcast is to make connections — with people everywhere who love silence, who seek more silence in our lives, who wish to understand and appreciate more fully and be able to speak of the gift of silence in our lives more beautifully. We hope you will connect with us, not only by subscribing to the podcast through iTunes or Google Play, but also by connecting with us via our Facebook Page or Twitter. Thank you.

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based on the Connecticut shoreline.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is a contemplative author, speaker, retreat leader, and spiritual companion based in Atlanta.

Carl, Cassidy, and Kevin (photo by Fran McColman)

Episode 0: Pilot Episode
Hosted by:
Carl McColman
With:
Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded:
September 25, 2017