One Square Inch of Silence
Have you ever heard of the “One Square inch of Silence?” It is a geographic location in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park and has been named the quietest place in America. A friend made a pilgrimage to this “One Square Inch of Silence.” She was convinced that she had stepped through the veil and experienced something of heaven. I hope to visit someday. Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who travels the globe tracking the last quiet places on earth. He has recorded the unique acoustics inside volcanos, the musical scores of rainforests, and documented the soundscapes of sunrises across every continent. What Kempton has discovered, and somewhat alarming for humanity, is how few quiet places remain on our planet untainted by the “noise” of modern life. This scientist believes that we are living in the age of the extinction of silence.
Today I am interested in the possibility of rediscovering and cultivating “one square inch of silence” within us. We inhabit a very loud, too busy and often negative exterior landscape. We must learn how to “cultivate calm” and engage with the world from a posture of peace. Yet very few of us can do it. My life regularly feels like Grand Central Station on the outside, and if I am not careful—Grand Central Station happens on the inside as well. The absence of quiet and stillness in my life inevitably leads to an impatient, anxious, and less-hopeful version of Farrell. That person is no fun to be around. My frenetic energy sadly impacts everyone who crosses my path, my children, my husband, my work colleagues and even strangers.
“One square inch of silence” was a priority for Jesus. He was under an epic level of stress. His 1st century life was loud, demanding and full of uncertainty and fear. Fully embracing human existence, he experienced our worries, fears, disappointments, stresses, and regular heartbreaks. He knew the world was not as it should be and dedicated his earthly existence, blood, sweat and tears, to change it. The societal institutions of his day, like in ours, were flawed and frequently corrupt. Just like us, Jesus faced the challenge of living a sacred, consequential life in a terribly broken world. He was not immune or protected from the reality of death. It’s shadow followed him just as it does us.
So much noise—Jesus knew he would be ill-equipped to handle it all without God’s gifts of calm and peace. His method was to step away—to the desert, to the garden, underneath a fig tree or walking the seashore. He relished the quiet, the opportunity to process his thoughts and unburden his heart to God. Our broken world is too loud, too busy, too heart-breaking for our gentle souls. We crave “time out of time” moments where we don’t have to be “on.” We need regular metaphorical “hikes” to that “one square inch of silence” where we can lick our wounds in private, and work through the important conversations between our heads and hearts. We must remember and reestablish who we are and what we truly want from this short span of life. In quietness and stillness we can replenish our courage and reserves of hope. None of this can happen in the cacophony of daily experience.
Jesus knew that only in the quiet could he hear God’s still, small voice giving him holy direction.
How do we “cultivate the calm?” No one can do it for us. First, we must commit to stepping away from life’s hectic shuffle. Plan for a “monastery” experience of prayer and reflection once a day. Our sympathetic nervous system only needs five to eight minutes of quiet and stillness to reestablish a helpful balance. Be quiet. Close your eyes. Do the simple “three stairs” up inhale, hold at the top, “three stairs” down exhale, hold at the bottom, breathing exercise. Repeat this psalm, Be still and know that I am God, and do nothing. Just be.
The Zen Master, Thich Knat Hanh, dedicated his life to helping millions cultivate peace, hoping it would spill out into the larger world. He believed we could experience “kingdom” moments here on earth, cross the invisible boundary and experience God who always awaits us. Below is a recording of Thay “The Teacher” leading you into an envelope of peace. I would invite you to introduce the practice of breathing and meditation with your children. I give my husband credit for gathering our family many Sunday afternoons for a guided eight minute meditation. It softens our edges and Sunday evenings feel even more sacred.