Tag Archives: silence

Paul Quenon, OCSO: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey (Episode 32)

Poet, photographer, and memoirist Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO sat down to chat with Cassidy Hall this past July when she was visiting Gethsemani Abbey.

Author of several volumes of poetry including Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems, Br. Paul is also the author of a newly published autobiography, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. His memoir is a delightful and charming story of monastic life not only as a forum for deep spiritual exploration, but also as the foundation for a life devoted to music, art, and especially poetry.

Cassidy and Brother Paul

Brother Paul entered monastic life in 1958, when he was only 17 years old — back before the reforms of the Second Vatical Council, when the life of a Trappist was even more austere than it is today. His novice master turned out to be Thomas Merton, who eventually became an inspiration to Brother Paul not only as a monk, but as a writer.

In their conversation, Cassidy and Brother Paul discuss his life story, his experience as a monk, as a writer, and as a lover of nature. He enthuses on his special love for the poet Emily Dickinson, and shares the poem of hers which convinced him that she was a mystic (#315). He also offers a ‘sneak peek’ of his current writing, sharing some poems he is currently writing. Through it all, in the heart of his rich and cultured life, silence has been his constant companion.

There is a kind of silence which comes from stilling the mind, and you can develop that capacity, how to not fight thoughts so much as set them aside… if you want to be free, free your mind… instead of fighting the thoughts you just stand above them like on a bridge and watch the water flow by… but then there is a kind of silence that descends upon you, and it’s like the presence… it happens on its own, and that’s really special. You may get that, or you may not get it… it’s not a matter of looking for it, because if you’re looking for it, than you’re thinking of something, you have an expectation and you’re dealing with your expectation. — Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

The opposite of faith is indifference. — Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO

Filmmaker Patrick Shen, Brother Paul, and Cassidy Hall on the porch of Thomas Merton’s hermitage, on the grounds of Gethsemani Abbey.

Episode 32: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey: A Conversation with Paul Quenon, OCSO
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Paul Quenon, OCSO
Date Recorded: July 4, 2018

Silence in the Summertime (Episode 31)

It’s summertime! How do you find silence amidst the droning of cicadas or locusts? What does it mean to be silent during the electric crackle of a late afternoon thunderstorm? How do we maintain our commitment to silence when we’re juggling family vacations, back to school to-do lists, or even more lasting and significant life transitions? We have this myth that summer is a laid-back time, but often we find it carries its own intensity. Where do we find silence then?

In the middle of this change… the silence really stirs up a lot. So it helps me to find a balance, a rhythm, but it also doesn’t allow me to run away from the fear, or the joy, or anything else. It’s right there in my face. — Kevin Johnson

Cassidy shares a provocative quote from an essay by Mary Oliver in which she talks about how poetry needs to “rest in intensity,” and uses this as her metaphor for navigating a very busy summer — a summer which she describes as being like a poem.

Kevin finds his summer to be both joyful and yet poignant, as one of his daughters prepares to go away to college for the first time. And yet this has been a time for him to find a new connection to his own practice of silence, and how an embodied sense of silence has felt like a friend reassuring him that everything is okay.

Carl, meanwhile explores how his relationship with silence this summer has been supported by two endeavors beyond his daily meditation practice: taking yoga classes with his wife, and writing poetry… just for joy.

I’m trying to look at my summer as a poem… just keep moving forward, just keep plugging away, but finding those pauses that often become shorter in times like this, that often become just the gaze out the window, or just the long stare into the coffee cup. — Cassidy Hall

We finish this episode with each member of the team briefly recounting the books we’ve been reading — and even share some insight into the t-shirts we were wearing the day we recorded this episode!

 

 

The silence is always there. And the question is, to what extent are we listening to it, or are we listening to whatever else is going on? — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Cassidy talks about fundraising for research to help fight the degenerative disease Friedreich’s Ataxia. To learn more about this disease and to contribute to the fight against it, visit the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance website, www.curefa.org.

And finally, here is a glimpse of some of the handpainted silk scarves created by Fran McColman. These aren’t for sale (yet) — but stay tuned!

Episode 31: Silence in the Summertime
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: August 9, 2018

Leah Weiss: Silence at Work (Episode 30)

Unless you work in a library or a monastery, you may not intuitively associate “silence” and “work.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, our working lives have everything to gain if the workplace could become more hospitable to silence — and related mindfulness practices. Leah Weiss, PhD integrates Buddhist wisdom, mindfulness practice, and holistic management principles to articulate a vision of how it is possible to cultivate a more “sane” workplace. Dr. Weiss is a professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is the author of the New York Times bestelling book How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind.

I think of silence in two ways. I think of it as the literal having periods in the day, intermittently, and sometimes they’re long, and sometimes they’re not, of having literal quiet. But I also think of it as inner silence that we can access (or not), and the world around us can be noisy, but if we have this ability to touch in with our own clarity and mental spaciousness… that’s another way to access silence, and you can do that no matter how loud it is on the city streets. — Leah Weiss, PhD

“Buddha” art by Leah’s son Caleb

Weiss talks about how Tibetan Buddhism provided the forum for her own journey with silence — and how the experience of having a family (three small children) has deepened and clarified her understanding of the power of silence in her life. Arising out of her work with persons who are trauma survivors, or who have experienced toxic forms of silence (such as their voice being silenced), she offers insights not only about the blessings of silence, but also the importance of addressing honestly problems related to how individuals and organizations use silence in unhealthy ways as well. She muses on how community and connection are important “adjuncts” to the exploration of silence: by being able to talk to others, we more efficiently facilitate healing in our lives.

There’s lots of people who are out there claiming all sorts of absurd stuff about how mindfulness is a silver bullet and if you teach people to meditate, all problems will be solved. I don’t believe that. — Leah Weiss, PhD

Leah Weiss’s book:

What does it mean to create an environment where we can skillfully build positive silence, along with connection, support and healing? Not all of us are survivors of intense trauma, but all of us have traumas in our lives, in places where there is pain that we don’t’ want to touch, that hurts, and we need to have ways to deal with it. — Leah Weiss, PhD

Episode 30: Silence and Mindfulness at Work: A Conversation with Leah Weiss
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Leah Weiss
Date Recorded: July 12, 2018

James Finley: Silence and Vulnerability (Episode 29)

Author, retreat leader, and psychologist James Finley brings his experience as a student and spiritual directee of Thomas Merton to his work guiding others into the mysteries of Christ and of silence. He is the author of Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of Godand The Contemplative Heart. He has also created audio learning series, including Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere and Meister Eckhart’s Living Wisdom.

“When we get involved in spirituality, we’re drawn to it, we tend to have a lot of questions, and that’s why we tend to read spiritual books or watch podcasts and well we should, and we should get spiritual guidance and so on. But then… we get a little deeper, here we realize that it’s not so much that we’re the ones asking the questions, but God’s asking the questions, God’s asking me a question… and I start to discover that not only do I not know the answer to God’s question, I don’t understand the question.” — James Finley

Cassidy met Jim through the International Thomas Merton Society, and discovering that they are neighbors in California, they made arrangements last month to get together to record this conversation. As they explore silence together, Jim tells Cassidy stories from his six years living as a Trappist novice (don’t miss the story of talking to Thomas Merton about the pigs!), and how his entry into the world of radical solitude and silence — under the guidance of one of the great spiritual writers of the past century — Finley learned to find his voice as a seeker of God, and eventually discovered his vocation even though it took him away from the cloister.

“We can’t with integrity claim to be on a spiritual path and turn our back on the suffering of this world.” — James Finley

He and Cassidy talk about the tragedy of how contemporary Christianity has abandoned its own mystical heritage, learning to discover the mystery of God beyond all “boxes” and definitions, the “infinity of the unexplainable,” learning to love the world as part of the contemplative project, the importance of paradox and perplexity, how language ought to be “in the service of the unsayable,” how the experience of trauma can impact our spiritual lives, and other topics along these lines.

“I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude-to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face.” — Thomas Merton

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Visit Jim Finley’s website at www.contemplativeway.org. His newsletter which includes his recommended reading list can be accessed here: “Reading List for Beginners”

“Lovers cannot force the oceanic oneness, but can assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to the gift of that … The poet cannot make the poem happen, but the poet can assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to the gift of the poem.” — James Finley

Episode 29: Silence and Vulnerability: A Conversation with James Finley
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Jim Finley
Date Recorded: June 7, 2018

Kenneth S. Leong: Silence, Christianity and Zen (Episode 27)

How does silence impact spirituality at the level of interfaith or interreligious engagement? Our guest today, Kenneth Leong, wrote a seminal book on Christian-Buddhist interspirituality, and so we were eager to have him join the Encountering Silence conversation to reflect on how silence takes us to a place beyond the limitations or separations of doctrine, dogma, or religious culture.

Kenneth S. Leong is the author of The Zen Teachings of Jesus and a German-language book of Zen Stories, 100 Zen-Geschichten für das neue Jahrtausend: Anleitung zum GlücklichseinAfter working over twenty years in finance, he pursued a Master’s Degree in Teaching and devoted twelve years to teaching in a variety of education settings, primarily teaching mathematics but also finance, philosophy, and Zen.

Mr. Leong has been a speaker and lecturer on Buddhism and spirituality since the mid-1990s, having taught in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the New York Open Center, and other continuing education and adult learning venues. He is active on social media, moderating or contributing to groups devoted to topics such as Buddhism, Alan Watts, and Zen Christians.

Silence, to me, means right concentration. — Kenneth S. Leong

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

Episode 27: Encountering Silence in Christianity and Zen: A Conversation with Kenneth S. Leong
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Kevin Johnson, Cassidy Hall
Guest: Kenneth S. Leong
Date Recorded: May 25, 2018

Six Months of Encountering Silence! (Episode 25)

Hello friends!

Can you believe that the Encountering Silence Podcast released its first episode six months ago?!?

Yes — our “pilot episode” was released on December 6, 2017.

This week we’re celebrating our six-month-anniversary with a brief conversation in which we reflect on some of the insights and surprises that the last six months have yielded for us.

Silence includes everyone, silence levels the ground and flattens our egos, to recall that we’re all human and we all belong to one another. — Cassidy Hall

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s say it right up front: this is our “pledge drive” episode. One of the things we’ve learned over the last few months is that we had seriously under-estimated how much time it takes to plan, record, edit, release, and promote a podcast.

We love doing this, and so we’re not begrudging one second of our time. But since we are all self-employed, we also have to balance the joy we find in the podcast with the reality that we need to be earning a living.

Over a dozen listeners have made the commitment to support the podcast with a monthly pledge through Patreon. If you are one of those, please know how much we appreciate your support. Thank you!

If you haven’t made a pledge, then we humbly but sincerely ask you to consider doing so now.  Even $1 a month makes a difference. Frankly, we would be more excited to have one hundred people pledge a dollar a month than to have one person pledge $100. Why? Because it shows us that people want to be part of the Encountering Silence Circle.

Please visit our Patreon page at patreon.com/encounteringsilence

In this episode, we mention a wonderful book by Henri Nouwen called A Spirituality of Fundraising. We recommend it to anyone who is a fundraiser (or a donor!) as it beautifully expresses how giving money (and asking for support from current and future donors) can be an expression of community, of caring, and indeed of spirituality.

Episode 25: Six Months of Encountering Silence
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: May 21, 2018

 

Encountering Silence in Our Busy Lives (Episode 21)

If you could take a snapshot of your relationship with silence today, what would it look like? Perhaps you will have just come back from visiting a city where tragedy has brought about a new quality of silence. Perhaps you are just clinging to a daily sitting practice in the midst of a very busy life. Or silence is your companion in a time of personal or professional transformation.

In this episode, we muse on what our relationship with silence looks like nowadays. Reflecting on our busy lives and how we try to maintain an intentional relationship with silence in the midst of the busy-ness, we muse on the paradox of how silence calls us back from the “mindlessness” of a life that is dulled by too much time in front of a computer screen, or too much time sitting at a desk — but as we enter into silence, we are taken to a different kind of “mindlessness,” a place of forgetting self-consciousness and letting go of ego-defined ways of thinking, seeing or being.

“If you go for a hike, which I do often to reduce stress and to recuperate and to be quiet and to enjoy the beauty, if I do that I start to notice there’s another level of consciousness that’s available to me, and that level of consciousness is tapped in through silence. … One of the things I’ve noticed is that silence is that shift in attention away from where it’s self-consciousness and all about my ego and my needs, to opening up to the wide world in front of me, and saying ‘I’m a player in this, I’m part of the trees, I’m part of the wind, I’m involved in this eco-system,’ and that I need to reconnect, that I’m not separate from the flow.” — Kevin Johnson

We round out our conversation by reflecting on some of the books we are currently reading, including poetry and even a couple of “guilty pleasure” books. Cassidy finishes our conversation with a lovely poem from the great Spanish mystics St. John of the Cross.

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Cassidy referred to the book Carl is currently editing. It’s called An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom which will be released in November.

Episode 21: Encountering Silence in Our Busy Lives
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Carl McColman, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: May 4, 2018

 

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM: Silence, Action, and Contemplation (Episode 19)

Richard Rohr talks with us in this episode about silence, spirituality, contemplation, action, and why discernment is essential for each of these areas of life.

One of the most popular and beloved of living authors writing about contemplation , Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque NM, and the dean of the online Living School. Through his popular books, audio recordings, conferences, and daily emails, this Franciscan priest has become a leading spokesperson for the recovery of contemplative spirituality in our time.

Kevin, Cassidy, and Carl skyping with Fr. Richard Rohr.

“I believe the primary orthopraxy — praxis — is silence. Primary: it precedes all other spiritual practices, all other spiritual disciplines. And of course we’re first of all talking — and I know you know what I’m going to say — about  interior silence. And that takes a while to achieve, because most of us, our mind fills up as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, with ideas, projects, agendas, arguments… and they’re all of a verbal character.” — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Rohr spoke with the Encountering Silence team from his hermitage in New Mexico, where he offered insight not only into his work as a writer and speaker, but also into the challenges we all face as we seek to integrate contemplation (including silence) into the demands of contemporary life. Indeed, as our conversation progressed it became clear that, as much as he values silence, Rohr felt strongly that silence should never be used as an escape from the demands of relationships, communities, or the struggle for justice — the “action” that must be partnered with “contemplation.”

Rohr has a keen understanding that silence is not something that not all people have easy access to — so, therefore, silence is a justice issue. He also points out that silence is not the same thing as contemplation (neither, for that matter, is being an introvert!) and that perhaps the most valuable gift that silence can give us is an invitation to move beyond the dualistic nature of language into a space that is restful, open, and simple — a space where, in the title of one of his most popular books, “Everything Belongs.”

“Silence is a way of knowing.” — Kevin Johnson

Richard Rohr is a warm and generous person and our conversation was quite intimate. He told us a remarkable story about encountering two of the most renowned Catholics of the twentieth century shortly after graduating from high school (spoiler alert: one of them was Thomas Merton!), and reflects in a truly beautiful and vulnerable about how it feels to be a man at 75 (we recorded just a few days after his birthday) where he finds grace in “having no agenda.”

“If people do get into contemplation or silence in the first half of life, it’s almost always by some encounter with limits. Let me call it that instead of suffering, because we’re so afraid of the word suffering. But without limits entering your life, you tend to define your religion in terms of spiritual ascending, rather than descending.” — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Among the topics we touch on in our wide-ranging conversation is the distinction between true and false silence — as well as true and false dimensions of activism — the importance of being in the “second half” of life for embracing the contemplative life, the recognition that contemplation can take different forms in different cultures, and the hope that Rohr finds working with younger adults in the context of his ministry.

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

Some of Richard Rohr’s other books include:

Episode 19: Silence, Action and Contemplation: A Conversation with Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: Father Richard Rohr, OFM
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

Silence and Poetry (Episode 18)

We love poetry — and we find that, of all literary forms, poetry seems to most quickly and assuredly bring the attentive reader to the threshold of silence.

“Poets all see silence as sacred ground,” notes Kevin, “because it’s from the silence the poems come.” Together we muse on how poetry puts us in touch with our bodies, our intuition, and how the relationship between poetry and silence is, perhaps, just the same as the relationship between silence and sound that forms the foundation of music.

Much like musicians use notes, poets are the composers of words. They pay such attention to the space between. More then we do in typical writing, typical everyday language, they heed the mystery, they listen to the offbeat, and they use it. They know how to harness it, they know how to hold it open-handed… it’s I would dare to say closer to silence then any other writing is. — Cassidy Hall

Because we are all “poetry geeks” pretty much just as much as we are “silence geeks,” we joke that trying to create a podcast about poetry should take us 200 hours (or more). So this week’s episode is just a check-in, a snapshot of where our journey with poetry has taken us at least for now.

From Mary Oliver’s earthy reflection written in response to a cancer diagnosis, to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska’s playful consideration of how the experience of the mind or soul has an “embodied” or “natural” dimension, to the more ethereal or even transcendent perspective of Evelyn Underhill, the poems we consider in this episode dance between matter and spirit, between consciousness and mystery, between wonder and doubt and insight. And while none of these poems are specifically “about” silence, they all usher us into that place where word and silence kiss.

Silence is embodied, and yet silence is paradoxically also immaterial… To encounter silence implies materiality. — Carl McColman

Some of the poets, authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Silence isn’t a fleeing from the world, it’s a fleeing to the world. It’s actually getting out of your ideas about the world, and actually showing up and being present in the world. — Kevin Johnson

Episode 18: Silence and Poetry
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

Silence and Mysticism (Episode 16)

What role does silence play in mysticism?

That’s the question that launches our conversation this week. Episode 16 is inspired by the recent release of The Little Book of Christian Mysticism, by Carl McColman. But rather than just focus on the new book, we decided to broaden the conversation in this week’s episode to a more general reflection on how silence and mysticism belong together — and influence each other.

We launch our conversation by looking at the problems connected with merely trying to define the word “mysticism” (and related terms  like “experience” and “spirituality”). From there we explore the connection between mysticism, mystery and silence.

“The Christian of the future will be a mystic — which is to say, a Christian who’s comfortable with silence, who’s comfortable with mystery, who’s comfortable with paradox and ambiguity, but who moves into all of that for the sake of love: the love of the Divine, and the love of one another.” — Carl McColman

Our conversation considers how mysticism is misunderstood by both the academic world the world of “pop” spirituality, how mysticism can make a difference even in the context of the institutional crisis in the church today, and how mysticism can be meaningful to the ordinary person today — leading to the radical (but ancient and orthodox) teaching of deification or divinization — what Saint Peter called being “partakers of the Divine nature.”

In our conversation, we explore who are some of Carl’s favorite mystics, how the women mystics of the Middle Ages need to be acknowledged as courageous heroines of the faith, and which mystics ought to be declared doctors of the church.

“Experience is the beginning of mysticism… People will say ‘I am drawn to mysticism because I want an experiential faith.’ I think that’s great! But let that be your starting point, and not your ending point. If the experience of God is the beginning of mysticism, then God’s encounter with you is the end of mysticism.” — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

“In the ancient church, contemplation was the highest form of rationality. It was when you actually let go of your ideas so that you could have new ideas, you could be open and you could rest and you could listen.” — Kevin Johnson

Episode 16: Silence and Mysticism
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Date Recorded: March 29, 2018