by Donna Chacko,
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about listening and silence. I recently wrote a blog post about listening and soon thereafter attended a weekend silent retreat. I’ve concluded that listening and silence are complementary—they thrive together. When we prioritize silence we can intentionally listen to God, ourselves, and others and, in this way, create a sacred space where love blooms. When we embrace silence and listening, we love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love of God begins in listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta adds: “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.”
The title of the Diana Ross and the Supremes’ famous song, Stop! In the Name of Love, is enough to make me immediately hear the song in my mind and start singing the words—maybe the same happens with you. Here’s how this song title can help you listen in silence and love more deeply.
None of us can become better listeners unless we take some concrete steps to do so. My friend, Brian Plachta, author and spiritual director, created a useful tool, called STOP, based on this song title. In his recent article, How to Be a Contemplative in Action, he describes our contemplative and active sides and how, when our days are balanced between the two, “we find a natural rhythm that’s life giving… We become a contemplative in action.” For many of us who are not balanced and find it difficult to embrace silence and listen during our busy days, he offers STOP as a spiritual practice to help us stay in balance. Brian uses the gospel story of Martha and Mary from Luke 10: 38-42, the contemplative sister and the busy sister, to make his point. When he gets too Martha-like, he tries to STOP.
“STOP: A Spiritual Practice
S: Stop what you’re doing when the day’s busyness tries to make you crazy. Be present to your body.
T: Take three deep breaths. Calm yourself with the gentle flow of steady air filling your lungs, slowing your heartbeat, and releasing stress.
O: Observe. Notice with curiosity (not judgment) what you’re experiencing. Name the emotions you feel. Let them flow in and through you.
P: Perceive. Ask yourself what you need in this moment. What would be life-giving for you now? A nap? A few more moments of silence? A reminder you are safe and capable, that what needs to get done will get done, and the rest will be there for tomorrow?”
Brian’s STOP practice involves mindfulness and listening to your body and your feelings. But, what do you do if you really want to STOP, but just cannot seem to remember this good intention until after you have snapped at your spouse or worked so long you are frazzled and have a headache? There are preparatory steps you can take that will condition your body, mind, and spirit so you will be more aware and mindful of when you need to STOP—in other words, it will become easier to STOP.
In my forthcoming book, Pilgrimage: A Doctor’s Healing Journey, I describe what happened with me as I slowly became more self-aware, analogizing my changing mind to a sponge becoming softer.
In Chapter 11, I write: “I had to be open to allow the process to happen. It was in that learning to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’ that I started to be aware of changes in my perceptions. I’m convinced that my Centering Prayer* meditative prayer practice, which I embraced as precious time resting with my Lord, actually had already altered my mind, quieting it, and making it more open to therapy. It’s like my emotional mind was evolving from a hard, scratchy, dried-up old sponge to a soft, expanding sponge that was increasingly able to absorb water. The process started slowly. Initially the dry and dull sponge repelled the water, but it gradually became more pleasant to touch and was flexible—less likely to crack when pressure was applied. My mind was becoming more permeable to challenging memories, perceptions, and ideas. As I became more mindful, I became more aware of my suffering or anxiety in a way that helped me to meaningfully respond instead of automatically reacting to my distress.”
So, how can you become more sponge-like so that it will be easier for you to STOP? Find some time for silence. Start with getting up 10 minutes earlier every day for silent prayer. It’s a small step, but will lead to other steps and more awareness of each precious moment.Slowly, you will absorb the practice until you are able to become more mindful. That’s it— STOP as often as you can, make time for silent prayer, listen, and love.
Thanks for reading and God bless you. If you are interested in learning more about my upcoming book, go to serenityandhealth.com/pilgrimage.
Image by C. Koch from Pixabay
Want to create a travel kit or sacred centerpiece for this Summer/Winter? Join us for Making Time for a Sacred Summer virtual retreat with Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin!