When I am silent I hear more.
In particular, I hear more of my own thoughts, which can be both troubling and helpful. Troubling, because not every thought that passes through our minds is a helpful thought.
Weeds and Crops
Margaret Silf distinguishes between “watering the weeds” and “nourishing the crop”(1). We can spend more time attending to thoughts that are life-denying than to movements within which are life-giving. Our “inner pendulum” can swing wildly between excessive attachments (our desire to gain) and excessive aversions (a fear of loss). Yet there are other ways forwards: ways of freedom, ways of giving, ways of peace, ways of love.
Nettle-Beds and Rose-Gardens
We have both “nettle-beds” and “rose-gardens” within. Our “Nettle-beds” include over-sensitive anger, cynicism, arrogance; whilst our “rose-gardens” include joy, empathy, compassion, confidence, love.
Consolation and Desolation
To use more spiritual terms, these equate to “desolation” and “consolation”. Desolation tends to turn us in on ourselves, cuts us off from community, dominates our whole consciousness so that we lose perspective and drains us of energy. Consolation, on the other hand, directs our focus beyond ourselves, lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people, bonds us more closely to our human community. In consolation we have new ideas, even inspiration. Our inner vision is refreshed, and new energy is released within.
Drawn or Driven?
Another way of understanding these different “moods” within is to try to discern whether we are feeling gently drawn (a positive and life-giving feeling) or harshly driven, even by ourselves (which can be ultimately destructive as its sources may be in our own or in others’ selfish motivations).
Grow Meaning, Joy, Perspective
Consolation draws me towards appreciating others, the world and God. Consolation broadens my perspective so that I am more aware of others, of the world and of God. Consolation helps me find joy in what is life-giving. Conversely, there are “fake joys” and pleasures in attachments and addictions that are life-destroying, and these are misleading and desolating “joys”, not truly worthy of that word, that leave a bitter after-taste of guilt, sadness and self-destruction.
To grow is get better at this process of discernment. Others can help us. Prayer can help us. Silence can help us grow, help us appreciate more the meaningfulness of life, help open our perspective and prepare us to receive genuine consoling joy.
(1) I would particularly like to express my gratitude for Margaret Silf’s wonderful book Landmarks, whose ideas, derived from Ignatian spirituality, have provided the foundations of this post.
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