I’m not one who has much difficulty in the way of physical silence. I don’t keep a TV running–“just for noise”–except when I’m watching it. Now, I might go through phases of too much DVD-watching, but unless I’m watching it, the TV is off. I don’t plug headphones into my ears except when I’m doing repetitive work, and when I do, I’m listening to lectures, podcasts, ancient philosophical works or Church Fathers on audio. And I don’t very often have a stereo playing in the background–almost never, actually.
But make no mistake: the internal noise level in my soul is pretty constant. My mind flits from one thought to another, from some event or another, constantly churning out mental noise. My thoughts might be far more boring and nerdy than anyone else (I’ve composed essays on various philosophical or theological topics in my head while on the el or in traffic), but they are no less noisy, and certainly no more godly, than anyone else’s.
And that’s the hard part of it. How do I get away from my addiction to mental activity, to thoughts? How do I learn to deal with silence, to really deal with silence? How do I avoid the tendency, heck, the habit, of filling the physical absence of noise by all the mental noise I can muster? How does one develop the ability to embrace the mental silence as well as the physical–to focus one’s heart and mind on a singular thought? I pray, and my mind is everwhere: Our Father–I’ve got to remember to pay that bill today–who art in heaven–can’t forget to balance the checkbook–hallowed be thy name–did I remember to enter that grocery purchase in the check book?–thy Kingdom come–out of milk, need to remember to get milk . . . and so it goes. Mental noise, noetic static.
I know what the Fathers say–fill one’s thought with the Jesus Prayer. Fill one’s thoughts with the Psalms and the Gospels. Focus on one thought to the exclusion of others. Pay attention to what one is doing in the moment, and do not be distracted.
Easy advice. Not complicated to do. But very hard to do, nonetheless.