“Contemplatives rarely pray in words, but if they do, their words are few — the fewer, the better, as a matter of fact.” – From The Cloud of Unknowing, circa late 14th century

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

7 thoughts on “Brevity”

  1. When you contemplate, do you have a sense that you are communicating with spirit forces via a medium “too deep for words”? I.e., is your silence a technique for tuning out competing signals? Or do you cultivate silence for its own sake?


  2. Ktismatics,

    There are different strategies for meditation. Some contemplative meditation is silence for its own sake. One of the primary “goals” (if there are goals) is to still the mind, which improves concentration. Over time, this has tended to have a centering effect. Higher concentration ability also develops a certain ability to be more attentive. Additionally, I think that contemplative silence also has developed my self-awareness – my ability to “watch” myself and step back to objectively evaluate my actions, behaviors, and responses.

    Personally, I’ve never had a sense of communicating with spirit forces via a medium too deep for words. Communicating with spirits in a personal sense isn’t really something I’m very familiar with, either from personal experience or study. So, I don’t know that I can speak very intelligently on the issue. How about yourself?


  3. It’s a long time since I’ve practiced anything like meditation or centering prayer. I can tell you though that I don’t cultivate silence. In my thirties I developed tinnitus, a condition of the inner ear that causes me to hear a constant high-pitched squeal. When the world is quiet this irritating noise dominates my awareness. Consequently I tend to listen to music most of the day as a means of masking this inner noise. Interestingly, it’s theorized that tinnitus is caused by breakages of the little filaments in the inner ear that vibrate sympathetically with specific frequencies of sound waves that hit them. When a particular filament breaks, the ear can no longer detect that frequency, can no longer hear that pitch. Instead of the pitch going silent though, the brain substitutes its own pitch signal for the one it’s no longer receiving from the ear filament. So instead of silence I get constant noise at that frequency.

    In any event, some of these meditative practices for cultivating mind or spirit rely on a cooperative body. My father is almost completely deaf so he has no trouble cultivating silence. I don’t think, though, that this perpetual silence in which he is immersed enhances his deeper awareness of the universe. Some practices encourage you to monitor your breath: in, out, in, out. My mother had polio as an adult, which left her diaphragm paralyzed — which meant that she could not breathe. She relied on various mechanical means to breathe, and if those went on the fritz she could breathe on her own for awhile by in effect gulping air into her mouth and sort of swallowing it down her windpipe. Eventually she got a tracheostomy, by means of which air was pumped through a hole in her throat and into her lungs, automatically inflating the diaphragm. She loved this mechanism because, she said, it was the first time in decades that she didn’t have to think consciously about breathing.


  4. K,

    Yes, you make a good point. Thank you for sharing some of those personal stories. As I you seem to be saying, just because someone is silent does not mean they are silent. The absence of noise is not necessarily the type of silence that the contemplatives believe to be the cultivation of a deeper sense of awareness. For example, I’ve read that some Zen Buddhists believe that a developed practitioner (a master) would be able to practice Zazen (the Zen form of meditation for the purpose of deeper awareness) in any place, at any time, even in the middle of a crowd.

    On a somewhat related note from the Christian tradition, I’ve heard stories of monks who would build themselves into an isolated cell for the rest of their lives. They would actually wall themselves into a small room with no doors or windows. (Presumably, they would have some opening by which to take meals!) Brick by brick they would construct the cell that would completely shut them off to anything but prayerful communion with God.


    1. True. But unlike an Edgar Allan Poe story, you can’t put the book down when your done. If you build yourself into a cell, you’re kind of stuck.

      I suppose that you could shout and tell all the monks to break you out. But I’m assuming that if you build yourself into the cell, brick by brick, then you’ve probably made up your mind on the matter.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.