“Silence is helpful, but you don’t need it in order to find stillness. Even when there is noise, you can be aware of the stillness underneath the noise, of the space in which the noise arises. That is the inner space of pure awareness, consciousness itself. . . .”(Eckhart Tolle).
There is a lot of silence in my house. It has been nearly eleven months since my husband died. He was always ready to listen my comments and stories and frustrations. I would vent and he would smile. When he was very sick, I would look for things to say that would make him smile. I still have the urge to “tell Fred about this.”
So this year there has been silence but not a lot of stillness. Sometimes silence is helpful; sometimes silence just brings a realization of aloneness. But I am beginning during these quiet times to go beneath the silence and settle into “stillness.” Because there is no one immediately present to hear my complaints or my silly chatter or my furor over the politics of America, I am learning just to sit silently in my recliner and allow stillness, which Tolle calls the “inner space of pure awareness” to float around me. I’m not consciously deliberating or praying or solving a problem; I am just present. The difference between my silence and my stillness is that though my mind is quiet, I am listening.
It was during one of those times of being “still” that I came to a stunning awareness about my life which has changed everything for me. Fred’s death had provoked a lot of looking back about how different we were and how differently we responded to the traumas in our lives. And now in the stillness, I suddenly became aware of one of the saddest facts of my life: “If you don’t have a mother, it’s hard to be a mother.” In my case, my mother was there, but not present to me or even aware sometimes that I was there, too. This awareness provoked opportunities to share my new understandings with my two sons (who are in their fifties and were probably quite baffled when I started these conversations.) This time of stillness brought me relief from pain and a shedding of long-held guilt and a closer relationship with my sons.
Stillness is, I’m learning, different than silence. And God can be even more present in our stillness. In the stillness we somehow become free to deal with often decades old “noises” that are painful and loud and stubborn – that God wants to heal.