Could we let go of mind chatter for twenty minutes silence?  Let alone a day of silence?  Listen to the introductory comments at a recent quiet day…..

“When I was a little girl my mother said that if I could be silent for 20 minutes she would give me 20 cents.”
Everyone laughed.
The person continued, “That was a lot of money in those days, especially for a child. I was never quiet long enough so she never gave me that 20 cents.”
More laughter erupted.
She paused, smiling, “I wonder how I will go with the silence today?”

Let go of mind chatter for twenty minutes silence

Twenty Cents for Twenty Minutes Silence

Last Saturday I had been invited to lead a Women’s Retreat Day for Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Williamstown. The story above was part of the introductory welcome.  Letting go of mind chatter for twenty minutes silence was something we all faced.

We all laughed because we could all identify with the speaker!  It did no matter whether we were first timers anxious about how they would find the silence.  Or whether we were  experienced retreatants who knew how challenging it could be, at times, to still the incessant chatter of the mind.  We all wondered, could we let go of the mind chatter for twenty minutes silence?

Mind Chatter versus Silence

The contrast between chatter and silence seems to be a perennial issue. I remember visiting the Abbey at Iona, Scotland.  On the sanctuary wall, carved into the stone, are found outlines of a busy monkey contrasted with a languid cat. It seems like the monks of the Abbey also lived with the same challenge of letting go of mind chatter for twenty minutes silence!

The mind is simply doing what it was designed to do.  It likes to  solve all the problems of the world, but the incessant chatter can wear us down. Just like that mother years ago, we often seek some silence and space.  We try to find ways to stop the constant barrage of mind chatter – even for twenty minutes.

The “Lenten Lull” day, with three addresses, offered us five hours of silence in community.   That is twenty minutes silence times fifteen! This was keenly taken up.

The Lenten journey starts with ash, when we are signed with the cross. At the other end is water, sprinkled on us at the Easter Service as we renew our baptismal vows. In between is a winding path of uneven stepping stones. The purple stole shows in colour the slow and subtle journey from the purple/black of the cross to the white of resurrection.

Living in Lent

Here we are four weeks through the season of Lent with two more Sundays ahead. Benedict of Nursia encouraged the monks to live with simplicity and joy during Lent, living more fully the life they were supposed to be living all the time.

This is great in theory. Living with simplicity was a particular challenge for me as a clergy person at this time of year. Providing Lenten Studies for the congregation while preparing all the details for the Holy Week and Easter Services, it was hard to hold the contemplative prayerful life I sought to live.  Letting go of the mind chatter to  allow twenty minutes silence was not easy at times.

Remember That You Are Dust And To Dust You Shall Return

One Lent, as I applied the ash to the foreheads of worshipers on Ash Wednesday, the repetition of the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” seemed to sink into my soul.

Ash used on Ash Wednesday, traditionally prepared by burning the palm crosses from the previous year.

The words became my theme for that Lent as I explored aspects of their meaning and used them in my usual meditation.

Dust was easy to relate to as I was living in Eltham at the time and with so many unmade roads in this semi-rural area, there was always dust around us.

I also had memories of living in the Victorian Mallee which was dusty.  I remember sitting through an outdoor John Williamson concert at the football oval in the town of Pyramid Hill, in the midst of a dust storm. We could not see anything, but could hear all the country music!

Australia is a dusty place. It is geologically old. I was surprised by the contrast when I visited New Zealand which is young geologically, still being formed, lots of stones not yet worn down into dust like here.

The astrophysicists remind us that we are made from star dust –the elements present in that first explosion of life are the same elements, albeit in a different combination, that make up our physical being.

When Genesis talks of us being made from mud, that might not be literally true, but the truth is, we are made of the same elements as the earth. Similarly with the ash, what is remaining after the palm crosses have been burnt are the elements that the tree has drawn into itself from the soil.

A Meditation on Being Dust

So I found myself drawn to lying on the ground. Easy to do at the beach or the Botanical Gardens, where this is common practice, less easy in suburban parks, where people, bless their souls, would come to ask me if I was alright!

When I could not lay on the ground, I would lay down at home and imagine that I was on the ground in a peaceful place.

let go of mind chatter for twenty minutes silence

Lying in the ground, connecting to the earth

I would imagine myself sinking into the earth as I repeated the words of scripture (Genesis 3.19) “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

“Too many words” I found myself thinking. Gradually the words reduced to eight syllables that were easy to fit gently with my breathing, “From dust I come, to dust return” or seven syllables, “I am dust, to dust return.”

In this space I could rest and receive what the Creator wanted me to remember about being a creature. In this space I could consider the earth and my relationship to it.

Sleep on Country

Indigenous Australians have a strong connection to the earth, to land. Michael Leunig, a highly regarded Australian cartoonist, artist and social commentator, painted a picture for Australia Day in 2012, called Sleep on Country. Some might remember seeing  it in The Age newspaper.

In his commentary Leunig wrote,

“A white tourist from the South was heard to ask an old indigenous man in Northern Queensland how best she might get to understand and connect to the country in the way that he did. Came the brief reply with a big smile, “Just go out in the country and sleep a night on the ground there. Sleep on country.”

I realized that, in a small way, I was sleeping on country.

Let Go of Mind Chatter for Twenty Minutes Silence

So, back to the silence… Twenty minutes would be ideal, but even ten or five minutes would help.  Even a short time of silence can be enough to bring me to stillness, and stop the mind chatter.

Silence brought a different perspective.  It helped me to let go of the false story that leaders often get caught in.  The false story about being indispensable, of being the only one who has to make everything happen.

I could return to my true story – that this is the work of God, and that I am a co-labourer. I could return to my tasks in a calm state.  Then I could listen better to what the next steps might be. All because of twenty minutes silence.

What part does silence play in your prayer life?  What are your preferred strategies for calming the mind chatter?  If you are wanting to discuss this further to explore other uplifting spiritual practices, please contact me.