Listening Below the Noise

If today is Monday, then Anne LeClaire isn’t talking. It all started 20 years ago when she decided to take a day of silence—no conversation with her husband, no talking with her adult children who might drop by, no chatting with friends on the telephone—and since that time she’s observed two days of silence each month, on the first and third Mondays.

For Anne, silence is like The Secret Garden, and she uses the classic children’s story by Frances Hodgson Burnett to tell her own story in Listening Below the Noise.

As Anne describes her first experiments in silence and then her on-going practice, she shares how silence helps to bring focus to her life, how it fosters creativity, how it makes her more careful in choosing her words when she does speak, how choosing silence is different from being silenced, how silence teaches her about surrendering the need to be right.

For all these and other benefits, she is also frank about how her silence can be an inconvenience to her husband and to the other people in her life, and how silence has also forced her to confront some things in her life and in herself that she had tried to ignore.

Curiously, when Anne begins her practice of silence, she does not think of herself as religious or spiritual in any way. But over the years, she comes to understand her silence as a spiritual practice, and she notes how silence is part of many different religious traditions. She draws on writers like Kathleen Norris and Madeleine L’Engle, and stories from the desert fathers, but in this book, it’s really her own personal experience that takes centre stage.

Anne also includes some suggestions for finding our own secret garden of silence: “After finishing a telephone conversation, sit quietly for a minute or two. Breathe.” “Take a sabbatical from e-mail.” “Have a meal alone. Without distractions. Without a book or magazine.”

This is a beautifully written book, and I really appreciate Anne’s account of her journey. I feel as if I’m walking with her (in silence, of course) as she writes, “I know I am not yet finished with it. Nor is silence done with me.”

Writing/Reflection Prompt: Is simply not talking enough for silence? What about email, watching tv, reading a book—are these also “noisy”?


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