I attended Quaker meeting this morning; somewhere down the street a group of high spirited people had either a very late night party from Saturday or an early start to this evening. As we Quakers attempted to sit in silence, our neighbors worshiped to techno and modern ballads (there was a story about questing for ‘booty’...perhaps something involving pirates).
This was…distracting. I am focused on this shared spiritual experience with my fellow Friends; open to the Light that resides in…Boom-Shick Boom-Shick Boom-Shick Boom-Shick Boom-Shick Boom-Shick Boom-Shick. Remember when there were we were the way toooooo remember whennnnn!
So I began to consider distraction itself and what it means to avoid it, confront it, and carry a quiet space within. In my work at the Teachers Federation, I have a recording studio. In it is a large steel box with a padded room inside; when the door is closed, it’s completely silent and one is isolated from all noise and distraction (the box is literally separated from the building itself, it ‘floats’ on rubber pads). I’ve jokingly noted to my collegues that, should they feel the need, they are welcome to close themselves inside for a while and carry some quiet space away when they leave. This is, in effect, what Quakers attempt to do collectively in Meeting. We come together for an hour of quiet to share of it in itself and then carry that away.
Yet, we’ve the tendency to covet the quiet space itself and forget the world outside. I know this morning, I became irritated at the outside sounds that were intruding on our silent considerations. Don’t you people know we are doing the important work here? We are…Zweeeeeeeeeeeeooooo! I am on the star! I am on the star! I am higher than the star! I am slightly left of the star and somewhere out in space! In Space!
I then considered what a recording studio (and the Meeting) is truly for. It’s not about the quiet space; the space is built so that something important can be clearly heard there. When there is something important to be said at Teachers Fed, someone with the voice steps into the silence and speaks. It’s about having a space for clarity so that others can hear without distraction; it’s not about the speaker himself or herself. It’s not really even about the experience that he or she has in that space. We go into the silence to speak what is necessary; there is the need for preparation, for pacing and quiet contemplation. But, in the end, all the work of building a place of silence is moot if nothing is spoken within is then spoken without. We have to bring the quiet voice out of the silence and into the world.
This is something I struggle with personally; I’m drawn to the quiet spaces and tend to avoid the messy cacophony of life. Part of this is my nature (insert long conversation about introversion and extroversion, hard-wiring of the brain, studies with chimpansees, etc.). But there is always choice involved as well. I then end, this morning at least, I chose to embrace the distraction, stand, and speak to the Meeting what I related above. The distraction became the Light speaking and, though the silence was broken, the voice heard in the end was that of a shared experience we carried away together.