I saw a beautiful article by Pico Iyer called The Joy of Quiet in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on New Year's Day 2012. For those of you who, like me, had not heard of Iyer, here's a review of his latest book, The Man within my Head.
I am an extrovert’s extrovert, at least in the 95th percentile. I figure out what I think by talking about it. They say about extroverts, “There is no impression without expression.” I have trouble reflecting on life without being able to talk to someone else. That’s why I found I could not write my book without regular conversation with my daughter, Florrie Byrd, who is my co-author and editor.
My wife, Genie, is just the opposite. She’s as introverted as I am extroverted. When we first built our log cabin in Colorado, we had a lot of visitors. We met some school teachers who had retired from back East to Montana. They described their lives as ten months of winter and two months of company. Winters aren’t quite so long in Boulder, but you get the picture. In the early years, after a week of company, Genie would be going crazy for some peace and quiet. After a week without company, I would be crazy for camaraderie and conversation.
Yet, even as an extreme extrovert, over the years I have come to really cherish the joy of quiet. My journey into the quiet began in the midst of the stress of building a business, being husband and father rearing young children, with all the inherent conflicts balancing those roles brings to young couples.
In the early 1980’s, I started attending the Christian Businessmen’s Retreat. We are a small group of laymen who gather for a weekend each fall to reflect, learn together, and deepen long-standing relationships. These men have inspired, mentored, coached and held me accountable over the 30 years of my spiritual journey on God’s faint path.
At my first retreat, I met Harvey Cheatham. Harvey was a serious student of the Eastern spiritual practices, and he introduced me to meditation. We would arise before dawn and walk down to the pavilion at the edge of the lake. We would sit and meditate on a Scripture verse as the first rays of sun filtered through the trees and the fog on the lake. I still remember the verse that I meditated upon, John 14:27. In it, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
In my mind, I would repeat, “My peace I give you,” as I breathed in, and prayed, “Jesus, give me your peace,” as I exhaled. This verse resonated deeply with me, because peace was absent from my life of striving as a husband, father, and son of a perfectionist who happened to be my boss. In the stress of the times, I yearned for something more, something that would give me some sense of security, some feeling that things would be OK, some place of rest for my weary soul.
When I returned from my introduction to meditation at the retreat, I committed to continue the practice at home. Since I was already working long hours away from family, I realized that any time for myself would have to come in the early morning. I began to get up before dawn and sit in the silence with a single candle lit for a half an hour before I began my day.
I would work to quiet my mind against the constant chatter of internal dialog. I found it almost impossible at first, but found solace in Harvey’s instructions. “If you find your mind wandering during meditation, don’t beat yourself up. Just gently lead your mind back like a little child from its wandering.” Slowly, over a long time, I found myself able to enter into a state at the edge of consciousness, where I could find quiet and peace.
Some time later, I combined my meditation with a hot bath. I had heard of the sensory deprivation chambers someone invented in the early ‘80’s where you could float weightless on top of water in a dark space. I continue to this day the practice of meditating daily in a hot bath with candles burning and a picture of Jesus on the wall, visible in the dim light.
Finding the edge of consciousness and staying there is an art into itself. I think meditation is like skimming along the surface of a lake. Slip below the surface and I find myself in another place, dreaming. When I realize I'm no longer in the tub, but somewhere else , I know I have gone too deep, and rouse myself from sleep back to the edge of consciousness.
As the years have gone by, I have added a number of other spiritual disciplines to my practice of meditation. When I arise in the morning, I read a chapter of the Old Testament and a chapter of the New Testament in my study Bible, along with the notes. Then, I open my journal and write down any reflections on the past day or two that come to mind. Then, I begin my prayers with this recitation I have written in the back of the journal, where I keep my prayer list:
Shape me Lord, that I may be that which you would make of me. Give me the strength this day to turn from my selfish desires. As you will, what you will, when you will. Then, I spend time in intercessory prayer with a list of people and needs that have come to my attention.
These daily disciplines, when combined with time spent in Worship, participation in a men's Discipleship Group with my Pastor, and serving in my Missional Community make up the components of my ongoing spiritual life. Yet, even as I have added the richness of these disciplines, I still find the most powerful insights come to me in the quiet moments of meditation. It is in those times that the still, small voice of the Spirit speaks most clearly to me. While these insights don’t come often, they give me inspiration and direction for the following months and years.
Since I sold my business, Genie and I have been blessed to be able to spend several months each year at the Colorado Cabin. We are surrounded by National Forest, and have views of the Continental Divide, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park. We have marked miles of trails out into the forest from the cabin where we hike in summer and ski during the winter. My passion for nature photography and fly fishing grow out of this time in the wilderness. As I read Richard Foster’s seminal book, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, I learned of a form he calls the Prayer of Adoration. I was delighted to learn that as I sit in an Alpine meadow just reveling in the wildflowers, or wade a wilderness stream stalking trout, I am enjoying a form of prayer. These are other ways in which I experience the joy of quiet.
Are you able to find a place of Sabbath rest? Can you experience God’s peace in your life? Are you having trouble hearing the still, small voice and discerning God’s will? Having trouble separating signal from noise in your life? Wading into the spiritual disciplines of meditation and prayer will open the door to a more abundant life.
Are you practicing spiritual disciplines yet find your self wandering through the spiritual desert and still unable to hear God? Take heart, even the Saints experienced the dark night of the soul. I find myself in the spiritual desert fairly regularly myself. Yet I persist, though these times are painful. I find deep learning comes from the pain. Disconnect yourself from the chatter to enter into the joy of quiet each day and your life will become infinitely richer. Try it today and it will bless your journey.