Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


A Place for the Singing of Angels: The Power of Silence and Solitude (or at least no e-mail)

posted by Beyond Blue

I realize that this post is a tad hypocritical since my paycheck depends on your clicks, but I need to tell you about my inner transformation during my 19-day hiatus from the computer because, as you might suspect, my mood was much more stable and even approached happy and peaceful.

When I gave myself this challeng–to stay clear of all computers for almost three weeks–I didn’t really think I could do it. Back on my “Go Ahead, Challenge Yourself!” post, I confessed that the longest I had ever gone without checking my e-mail was six hours. I’m such the online junkie that Eric laughed hysterically when I told him what I was up to. “Yah. Like that’s going to happen!” he said.

However, I knew I had to get to the heart of my health problems, especially the vision difficulties and dizziness. If my deteriorating health was due to stress–as I suspected it was–then I needed to come up with a plan to relieve some of the pressure, and as soon as possible.

So, as I mentioned in my “Dear God: Don’t Sweat It” post, my OCD behavior came in handy: I wrote and loaded into Beliefnet’s blogging software all of August’s posts in July to afford myself this experiment of silence.

The withdrawal pains were so severe the first few days that I almost gave in. It was killing me to not know your feedback on certain posts. Yet something inside of me was screaming that I needed to do this, just like in high school, when I guessed my life would improve if I stopped boozing for awhile. By the time I got to day five, I had virtually no dizziness or vision impairments and I began to feel more comfortable in my own body.

One day I kayaked by myself for five hours. I tried my best to quiet my thoughts and just listen to the river’s waves hitting the buoyed sailboats and to the birds above me for as long as possible. Then I paddled up to a tiny stretch of land, a secluded and shaded beach, hidden to everyone but me, where I could imagine that I was the only human being on the earth, or at least in Anne Arundel County. There I pulled out my copy of “Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion” edited by my friend Robert Ellsberg, and I read excerpts from a bunch of my favorite holy people on how they found inner peace and what I could do to try to center myself.

Surprisingly, none of them suggested that I hop back on the computer and read all the newsletters that were waiting in my in-box. In fact, almost all of them wrote of the importance of silence, prayer, and solitude to grow spiritually.

Thomas Merton wrote:

In silence we face and admit the gap between the depths of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface, which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love….. Not only does silence give us a chance to understand ourselves better, to get a truer and more balanced perspective on our own lives in relation to the lives of others: silence makes us whole if we let it. Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence. It helps us to concentrate on a purpose that really corresponds not only to the deeper needs of our own being but also to God’s intention for us.

Mohandas Gandi wrote:

There is an eternal struggle raging in humanity’s breast between the powers of darkness and of light, and the one who has not the anchor of prayer to rely upon will be victim to the powers of darkness. Persons of prayer will be at peace with themselves and with the whole world. Those who go about the affairs of the world without a prayerful heart will be miserable and will make the world also miserable. Apart therefore from its bearing on humanity’s condition after death, prayer has incalculable value for humanity in this world of the living. Prayer is the only means of bringing orderliness and peace and repose in our daily acts.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote:

One of the first steps toward solitude is a departure. Were you to depart to a real desert, you might take a plane, train, or car to get there. But we’re blind to the “little departures” that fill our days. These “little solitudes” are often right behind a door which we can open, or in a little corner where we can stop to look at a tree that somehow survived the snow and dust of a city street. There is the solitude of a car in which we return from work, riding bumper to bumper on a crowded highway. This too can be a “point of departure” to a desert, silence, solitude. 

But our hearts, minds, and souls must be attuned, desirous, aware of these moments of solitude that God gives us. To be so attuned we must lose our superstition of time. God laughs at time, for if our souls are open to him, available to him, he can invite them, change them, lift them, transform them in one instant! He can say to someone driving that car bumper to bumper, “I will lead you into solitude and there I shall speak to your heart” (Hos. 2:14).

Throughout my desert period, I began to see how I had been losing my center in small pieces, here and there, with all the demands and requests that arrive in my in-box and with the excess of information I felt pressured to read. I never stopped to ask myself, Do I really need to answer this immediately? Is this a problem that I have to solve or does the problem belong to someone else? Do I need to read this?

Moreover, I was spilling my energy and time into useless places–trying to please everyone so that I didn’t have to sit with that uncomfortable silence of self, when you haven’t preserved enough for yourself to stand strong and sit up straight. Instead, you are exhausted, having given away your last ounce of energy to someone’s request, hoping that all the chatter and the busyness will distract you enough not to feel things so deeply or, even worse, to crash into a dangerous fatigue.

Now more than ever before, I believe in carving out small solitudes for myself–to give myself a chance to pay attention to my cadence of breath, or the breeze caressing my face, or the leaves’ changing hues, and to be as generous to myself with my time as I am to others. I want to feed and nurture myself with silence and prayer so that I am always able to hear the angels sing, as explained by Howard Thurman in “Modern Spiritual Masters”:

There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and, by an inherent prerogative, throws all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness, something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright white light of penetrating beauty and meaning–then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory; old burdens become lighter; deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.

To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.



  • Melzoom

    Good for you, Therese. I can’t even imagine how many emails you get…
    Take care of you

  • Fr Christian Mathis

    Glad that you got some time for yourself. Quiet is definitely good for the soul!

  • marilyn

    therese we all need to take a step back for ourselves.life will go on and people will still be there.but if you dont take time out once in awhile it will send you over the edge then you not doing yourself or anyone else any good.i am proud of you.keep takeing some time its healthy.

  • Veronika

    I wholeheartedly agree that silence is the best “vacation” one can take from so called reality.
    I have developed an addiction :) to silence, and have given up TV for 8 yr. I really don’t miss it. I still like to see movies, but TV depresses me.
    Blessings Therese, for bringing conscious awareness to how you drain your own energy. The frantic pace of modern life is a chosen one. We can get off the hamster wheel any time we choose. When we get off that wheel, it’s doubtful we’ll get back on.Keep up the good work. Nice quotes…I love Merton and Ghandi.
    Contemplative prayer is a beautiful thing…

  • Gil

    I so understand. I require *my* time every single day, similar to my requirement for oxygen. There isn’t a soul in my family who isn’t aware of this, though most consider me to be rather odd because of my penchant for aloneness. There are some who view such necessity for personal escape, to be hurtful or dismissive. I often wonder, were I not to have had the privilege of early retirement, if I would *ever* have recuperated appropriately as the sound of silence has been a necessary aim towards wellness. Isn’t it funny that to “isolate” oneself can be so healing, rather than a worrisome symptom? I admire those of you who slug at it every day and even manage to *enjoy* the experience.

  • SissyJo

    Amen Therese – That is exactly what the doctor ordered… We all have to have silence, a break from the constant onslaught of the outside world, whether it be Email, telephone, work setting – you name it, family included. Silence calms the soul and allows the mind to unwind…….. and ultimately wind down and process thoughts in a calming manner. I want to hear the angels singing too – I love that. Thanks for printing those excerpts. Peace and quiet – AHHH…

  • MJ

    At the risk of appearing to insult your paycheck, which I do not intend, I also find that less internet = more happiness. There is just too much junk out there – negativity, dumb articles, maddening sites dedicated to silly things like obsessions with makeup (do I have real issues with what my gender values and what I think that reflects about our capacity as humans? YES). Less is more. I’ve never been happier than when I’ve been outside more, and disconnected from tech more.

  • chaz

    Ok help appreciated
    how do you handle emotion-sucking vampires?
    Have co-worker that I’ve damn near alienated
    just because
    I’m so sick of all the negative drama in his life
    3 yrs I’ve been working with this person
    and not till this last year
    when I’ve been over-bombarded with my own personal @home drama
    that I’ve been able to stop the poor-me, miserable minute by minute detail of his life
    I could use some nice one or two liners, other than my excuse me on an errand/bathroom, whatever.

  • Diane Marrese

    I love silence and have been doing Centering Prayer/Contemplative
    prayer for years.It does help you with Focus and direction in your
    life.A jesuit named Maloney has had a small booklet out on it for years.Thomas Keatings writings are also helpful and he also has a web site which I would Suggest.”BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD”

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