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Silence of the minds

September 11th, 2009 by Fr. Vasile

elevatorI always liked this dialogue from the movie Pulp Fiction (slightly adapted for language):

Dont you hate that?

Hate what?

Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel its necessary to yak about nonsense? In order to be comfortable?

I dont know. Thats a good question.

Thats when you know you found somebody really special when you can just shut […] up for a minute. Comfortably share silence.

Indeed why do we always have to say something? Or for the same reason why do we have to listen to something all the time: radio in the car TV at home iPod when working out and we can go on and on. Put three people in an elevator for a couple of minutes and you will immediately see the beginning of a conversation. Weather local sport teams the financial crisis and other general subjects flourish in any communal moving vehicle. No one wants to just travel in silence and everybody feels the need to say something or at least to smile nod interact in some way with the others. One thing is clear everyone hates uncomfortable silence.

The term itself however is paradoxical: why would silence be uncomfortable? After all silence is associated with peace tranquility which is the opposite of annoying.

The answer might be that there is something we are afraid to be alone with. Archmandrite Meletios from the Monastery of St. John in California says it is our thoughts. Our mind generates an uninterrupted stream of thoughts or logoismoi as the Greek Fathers call them. This stream of thoughts originating in the primordial separation between our mind and our heart (nous) is what drives us nuts when there is silence around. Suddenly we have to deal with all our inner turmoil all our frustration all our depression all our deep seated feelings that are masked by focusing our attention on something else. Conversation and any other surrogates of sort are like a Band-Aid on an eviscerating wound.

The problem of inner thoughts is a very important one because the thoughts are the root of all we do. No sin is done without passing through the mind that gives the command. Stop the command and you will stop sin. In our minds we are at war an unseen warfare as people like to call it in which our path in life as persons is defined.

monk-at-prayerThe mind is so affected by these unstoppable thoughts that it becomes unbearable at times; this is where the discomfort in silence comes from. The only way to stop it is to do what St. Theophanes the Recluse says: “Get out of the head and into the heart.”   The heart or the nous (Ill use these two terms interchangeably) is the only part of us that is not affected by the logoismoi because is the part that could establish the contact with God and God does not have to be explained in words He just Is.  The goal becomes then to sink our mind into our heart and embrace the peace that comes from the presence of God in our heart.  Until we completely surrender our mind to God we will continue to be bothered by thoughts.

Talking about the Kingdom of Heaven St. Isaac the Syrian said that the language of the future is silence. This May seem odd for many that cannot imagine eternal Communion with God as being silent without words. We imagine that at the End we will be able to ask and find answers to all our questions and God will preach explaining everything we want to know. I doubt that this will be the case because in the presence of God there are no more questions and answers no noise distractions or entertainment just love that flows and fills everything. The very presence of God  is enough to fulfill any need or question we might have. He the Logos the Word incarnate is the answer. He was is and will always be the answer to all our questions. We just have to shut-up and listen.

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  • This is so right Fr Vasile. Please bless!

    I remember this timeless second thought as one prays with the great sign of the cross The formal words are of course In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit amen. This overlapping thought says in a second degree of thought as one touches first the ground with the humility of the earth Lord help me take my toughts from my mind (touching the head) and leave them in my heart (stomach) to adore you in all possible intelligence and wisdom as one finishes signing him/herself on the shoulders. The reference to intelligence and wisdom stem from the hebraic spiritual Qabbala in which the shoulders represent the energy of… wisdom and intelligence.

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