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Silence as a guide to spirituality

Similarly to what happens about spirituality in general, silence as well is to be treated as an object that is neither good nor bad in itself. Practicing it without any critical attention, aimed to exploit its potential at best, can reduce it to unnecessary or even frustrating waste of time, in such a way that it can become a hated enemy, or something causing discomfort or even fear; this doesn’t happen necessarily, but it can; it is like dialogue: dialoguing without any preparation, without any mental equipment, can turn the attempt into nothing more than a chamce for conflicts; this is not always and necessarily the case, but it can happen.

It is worth pointing out that attention and preparation do not coincide with the use of techniques: the practice of prepackaged techniques contains the risk of diverting us from listening to ourselves and to reality. No technology in the world can replace our “self”, our unique sensibilities. Technique leds us to focus on our need to solve a problem from the point of view of the outward results, making us forget that there is always something else that is more important than any problem; this something, as I just said, is our sense of “I”, is certain feelings that each of us in the world possesses in a specific way, is the unique ability of everybody to notice things that no technique will ever be able to make us notice. This does not mean that techniques are always and all to be prohibited: on the contrary, to those who understand what they can to make us lose sight of ourselves, techniques can help to refine just the consciousnesses from which otherwise they would divert us.

I hinted that silence should not be idealized, we must not be in the illusion that the more we do it, the more special and superior things will happen into us; some time ago I was surprised when a highly respected hermit, effectively cultured and fairly well critic and intelligent, told me that he had just a few hours of silence every day. Now we should not slip into the cliché that quality is what matters; what matters is everybody’s personal path; for someone it may be optimal, to reach the maximum of fruit, making only a few minutes of silence every now and then; others might be more inclined to live this for whole days; what matters is not to take away from our mind the idea of becoming supermen; what we need to become is the best for our being and this is known only in the course of a path; moreover, the measures and the most suitable qualities for us may change in different periods of our lives.

Once we have cleared the field from fanaticism and illusions, we can highlight that silence is anyway a practice of immeasurable importance, with enormous potential for our growth and for the creation in us of a spiritual experience. Some notes can be useful here for a first start of familiarization with this.

The first one is that silence does not mean reflection, although reflection is favored when silence is there. Reflection is another thing, it has other purposes and methods, it does not have as its first horizon creating within ourselves an inner experience; this is not at all excluded, but it is not our primary purpose. It follows that approaching to silence in order to live the experience of it means avoiding entering into reflection; this does not mean forgetting everything, getting away from the world and from life. I think that Psalms are masters about the fact that the praying person, in their prayer, does not forget their worries, those things that touch more intensively their heart, or even those people that they hate. Rather, “no reflection” means leaving apart for a while the effort of finding solutions to problems and, instead, living them as feelings, emotions, feelings that run through us. A way to set aside any nagging thoughts can be taking notes of them, so as to have peace of mind that they won’t be forgotten; for this moment we want to experience silence and then we are also letting flow in our mind those disturbing thoughts, but not to elaborate how to react to them or how to solve them.

A second note concerns the attempt not to block any thought that comes to our mind; this is very useful for knowing ourselves. This is not claiming to penetrate in our unconscious while being awake: our unconscious is so deep that even our night dreams do not enter it completely; we should only make a modest attempt to let our mind go and let it experience a bit of freedom.

As to the length of the silence, as I said, I advice being totally free and spontaneous, to avoid hostilities with it; if we want, we can try to determine in advance how much it should last, but I don’t consider useful, at least for me, making this a stable standard to which submit ourselves. We can set a minimum of continuous silence to live every now and then, for example five minutes every week, but aiming to make it more and more prolonged and frequent is not always the best practice. Claiming to be able to live long silences might have the negative result of making us haughty and proud about our higher spiritual capacities. This thing actually will only instantly contradict them and make us hypocrites.

As we enter, unpretentious and without haste, in the taste of silence in the the most suitable manners and measures for ourselves, we will experience that, after the first few minutes, it happens such as when a glass of cloudy water is put to rest: the heavier elements start going down to the bottom, others remain more on the surface and this way it becomes possible to distinguish more clearly in our mind things that seemed secondary or were submerged with distractions, becoming completely invisible and ignored, whereas they deserved attention, and vice versa.

As with all things, continued practice over years will create in us the taste, the flavor of what we experience, although in the necessary attention to avoid complacency.


Hello, everybody. This video refers to the article in the website “Spiritual Study”, the article whose title is “The practice of silence”. This video, as usual, adds some more notes to what you can find already in the lesson, in the article.

The first note that I would like to add is that silence, ideally, is experienced if it’s lived not just as that moment, what I’m doing in that moment of silence, how I’m experiencing that moment of silence, but as an experience that has a history behind it, which means connected with the preceding experiences of silence. Even if we live our experiences not really with a path, with connections, with an aim, anyway it happens that, in our life, everything is connected so we can get the most of our experience of silence if we consider this: there is a way, an evolution, a progress, either wanted or unwanted, we might be aware or unaware of it. So, it’s better, of course, being aware of what is happening over time in our experiences of silence. In other words, I would like to encourage to live our experience of silence both as a single experience, but also as an experience connected with our history of experiences of silence, maybe even all the experience of silence that we have had in our life.

Another note is that we can experience silence not only when everything stays silent, like when I don’t talk or when in music instruments don’t play anything, but the opposite, that is, the sound, the words, the music is able to carry an experience of silence, not only when it stops from playing, but in the note themselves. So, the words that I’m saying now are able to carry an experience of silence and, again, not in the silence that is between two single words, and in music not in the pauses of silence between the notes, but in the notes themselves, in the sound itself, either of words or of notes.

How is it possible? We know that humanly we are able to perceive this, we are able to perceive that a music, a speech, a phrase, a word is able to transmit an experience of silence. I said: it’s our humanity, it’s our human DNA that has this sensitivity. This means that, most probably, we can receive, we can perceive the silence contained in a music or in a word, because the producer was able to put some silence inside it. I’ll try to explain how it is possible to put silence inside a word, inside a musical note.

But first I would like to add another note, because, by saying this, that is, we can find the silence everywhere, even in sounds, in music, in words, this can make some kind of confusion; that is, if silence is everywhere, we can become victims of people who want to be full of charm, romantic, they want to impress us with their ability and we can become victims of pseudo spiritualities, spiritualities that have no value. So, what criterion can we apply in order not to be victims of this? I will just add one simple criterion, that is the criterion of criticism and self-criticism. Apparently it is not very connected with silence, but I think you can realize, over a path of spirituality, that actually there is a connection. I mean, if the person who is talking is able to admit her modesty, her limits, the limits of what she is saying, then this means that that person is aware of the fact that what she is saying is exposed to criticism. This is self-criticism. This means: I know the limits of my thoughts and my words. There are no words without limits, with absolute perfection, we are all humans, full of errors, mistakes, imperfections. This means a kind of listening: I’m listening to my humanity, the humanity of the world, the humanity of the people. This is able to transmit a silence, because this means that I’m putting a listening inside my words, listening of my limits, of our humanity, our human condition in this world.

Now let’s go back to what I was saying: putting silence inside words and sounds. This can happen in a way that does not need actually any special techniques. Just a simple way, that is, if, before talking, if, before making a music, I spend some time to meditate, to experience silence, to listen to me, to the life, to other people, to humanity, then that silence that was automatically built inside me will inhabit automatically my behavior, my words, the music that I play and hopefully other people with some kind of sensitivity will be able to perceive that there is some silence, an experience of silence inside what I’m trying to communicate.

In this context, a very important and meaningful example of this are the Russian icons. The Russian icons are usually faces, portraits, but not only, with a specific style of painting. A characteristic of these icons is that they are not just pieces of art, but they are the result of a spiritual experience, that is: the artist, before making Russian icons, according to the tradition, where they put themselves, the artist first prayed, meditated, made silence, so the work of art is actually part of a whole spiritual experience. It’s not just art, at least, as we perceive art, like a production, but it is an experience that transmits silence, maybe faith, if that person is a believer, maybe in God. So, this is the intention of Russian icons: to be vehicle of a religious experience. So, they should be received, enjoyed not just by looking at them, but trying to enter in some kind of connection with the artist, so trying to understand that, if I want to see the spiritual experience that is carried by that Russian icon, I should cultivate something at least similar in me. This is the experience of transmitting, of the silence that is able to flow from a person, from a speech, from words, and even from music.

Another idea, another note about silence is connected to experiences that we can find in the Bible, referred to the desert. Israel, when they escaped from Egypt, they found themselves in the desert and the desert is frequently mentioned in the Bible as a place of experiencing a spiritual experience, silence, poverty, absence of food and, what is important in this? Because I think there is a risk of misunderstanding.

Misunderstanding can happen if we mean the desert like an experience of something that is pure, immaculate, because there are not other things, there is not noise, but actually this way of conceiving the desert and even silence has the risk of putting ourselves in a mentality that is actually platonism. Platonism is distinguishing a world, an upper world, that is the world of ideas, that is the world of perfection, and our poor world, that is the world of things that can fail, have a lot of flaws, can change and so on. So, it contains the idea that there is somewhere the ideal of everything: the world of ideas: this was Plato, the philosophy of Plato. I think this is not really a strong, deep, meaningful spiritual context. About the desert, what is important is not purity, because we are never pure: we, as I said, we are humans, so we are full of imperfection, of noise mixed with our silence. Rather, I would say that what is important in the desert is poverty: poverty of words, poverty of content, of food, of wealth, of money, of everything, but poverty, that means, poverty not because poverty means suffering, but poverty because what is good in poverty is that it stimulates us to go to the essential, what is essential in life, while, when we have a lot of things, it’s more difficult to concentrate, to focus: what is essential in my life? So, in silence, in the desert we can make some cleaning from the noise, from the too many things that are not important, because this way we can gain awareness of what is essential in human existence, what do we want to be essential in our life.

Last thought about silence is that it can also shape our charity, our love towards people. I mean, charity can be a very shallow, very superficial action if we mean it like giving some money to the poor people to help them. This means just to avoid them to disturb our life, while instead, if I am in the context of silence, silence is connected strongly to listening, so I won’t just “Okay, take this money and go away”, but listening means: I want to listen to you, what is your life, I want to connect my life to your one. So, real charity becomes vital, existential connection to the people who we want to help.

So, these are some thoughts about silence. I hope that they will be interesting and useful for your spiritual experience and I invite you, if you like, to share your thoughts, your experiences in my website Spiritual Study. There is also the forum for discussions, so everyone can be free to express even himself or herself in that place, in those ways.

See you in next lessons