Thursday, January 19, 2012


Professor Mark
Williams (Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at the University of Oxford) and Dr Danny Penman are the authors of Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

The book uses a program based on mindfulness meditation developed by Williams and Penman at the University of Oxford to relieve anxiety, stress, exhaustion and depression.

In this CNN feature the authors discuss ‘10 easy steps’ to destress your life, and in this YouTube video clip Professor Williams, who is the Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, talks about the 'science of mindfulnesss':

Now, here’s something else which you can do, proactively, each day – something which, if done regularly, will help to desensitise yourself to stress. It’s called ‘entering the silence’ as well as 'practising the silence.'

Now, the silence is not a negative state of mind nor is it an inert state of mind. It is a place where you can hear interiorly what the Bible refers to as the ‘still small voice’ (1 Ki 19:12). Jesus, who taught that the 'kingdom of God' is within [Gk entos] us (see Lk 17:21), had some very good advice on this matter of 'entering the silence'. His instruction (cf Mt 6:6) was to enter into the closet (that is, the silence of your mind) and shut the door – that is, focus your attention on the experience of simply being without seeking to think, feel, analyse, and so forth.

When you enter the silence, you are approaching the very presence of being – that is, sheer existence … the very livingness of life itself. The state of mind experienced in the silence is not one of passivity or non-action. No, it is an awakened state of mind in which all things are experienced – as new – in the eternal now. Mental action may slow – indeed, it should – but the action of being fully present in the moment from one moment to the next will quicken and intensify.

Mystics of all faiths and none often refer to the experience of the silence as a period of conscious, wordless communion with the sacred or the divine. Indeed, it is, for what could be more sacred or divine than life itself … in all its fullness … experienced in the intensity of the moment? There is only one life manifesting itself in all things as all things. If you can truly know – not as book-knowledge – this life as one you will experience conscious communion with all life. Yes, you will come to know the ‘Self as One.’ Here's the 'secret': 'Be still, and know' (Ps 46:10). In the words of the poet John Keats, ‘that is all there is to know on earth and all you need to know.’

If you are ‘new’ to the practice of the silence, I suggest that you do not make the period of silence too long in the beginning. Start with, say, 2 or 3 minutes. The important thing is to have a regular period of silence each day, preferably at the same time (eg first thing in the morning).

Return to the silence throughout the day as and when necessary and when you simply want to commune with the divine. It is written, 'My presence will go with you, and ... give you rest' (Ex 33:14), and 'Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while' (Mk 6:31). Yes, the experience of the silence is akin to the calm that precedes or follows the proverbial storm, but it is much more than that. Much more. You see, the silence is calm. The silence knows no storms. The silence is also peace. Not just peace, but that peace that passes all understanding (cf Phil 4:7) which abides in the minds of those who consciously dwell in the eternal now. Another thing. The silence is a power – indeed, the Power – for good which makes all things new. The silence is also a presence – indeed, the Presence – in which we, along with all other persons and things, live and move and have our being (cf Acts 17:28). One Presence. One Power. One Life.

You need not call It 'God,' but you can if you wish. The important thing, as I see it, is this – this Presence is 'our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble' (Ps 46:1), and this Power, well, 'There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.' The Presence is a Power – the only Power (despite there being both 'good' and 'bad' forces at work in life). The Power is also a Presence – that very same Presence – indeed Omnipresence ... for the Presence of Life fills all, and is all, and empowers all, for everything is truly an individualised expression of life. (It is written, 'Of His fulness have all we received' [Jn 1:16].) And this Presence and Power –  this All-in-All – is most fully and personally experienced in the silence. It is experienced as peace, calmness, tranquility, equanimity, wisdom, love and compassion – indeed, as all those things which we ordinarily associate with the sacred or the divine.

Here is some very good advice on 'entering the silence' from the New Thought leader, writer and historian Horatio W Dresser. It's from his book The Power of Silence:

[S]ome devotees of the ‘silence’ have thought that there was some sort of mysterious power or feeling which one might enter into by opening the mind in what they called a ‘spiritual’ direction. Hence they have entered the silence with no particular idea in mind. Now, it is desirable to help people out of the thought of ‘mysteries,’ not into them. It is the clear-cut, the intelligible idea, that is the desirable. To set out upon a vague search for the mysterious is to open the door to all sorts of abnormal mental experiences. It is because of this that so many have found it altogether imprudent to try to enter the silence at all. But the trouble lay in themselves. We find what we look for. If you believe in the occult, you will invite it. If you are in search of the sane, the quicker you cut loose from all vague groping after the mysterious the better.

So, practise the silence ... and make today – indeed, every moment – count. Angels can do no better.

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