A time for listening

Over the past year, I have been unable to get to sleep until four o’clock in the morning. A few weeks ago, therefore, I decided to book an hour’s appointment with a recommended hypnotherapist.

On arrival he gave me an introductory talk and then asked why I was there. When I told him that my insomnia was due to the death of my companion of 54 years, he said ‘I am sorry to hear that’ and then resumed his set speech, asking me to lean back and close my eyes. After 40 minutes or so I opened my eyes and said, ‘This isn’t working – I feel deluged, saturated with words, I can’t take any more!’ and I quietly left.

I could not help thinking of Brother Gregory, a Franciscan friar I knew, who was once asked by the headmaster of a big public school if he would see a ‘troubled’ boy from a wealthy family who was into drugs and had various anti-social problems. Brother Gregory saw him and about two weeks later received a letter from the headmaster saying, ‘I don’t know what you said to the boy, but he is totally transformed.’

Brother Gregory turned to me. ‘I didn’t say a single word!’ he smiled.
Clearly, however, the intensity and quality of his listening had acted as a mirror for the boy, in which he was able to see himself and articulate his own problems.

This also reminded me of an episode recorded by the distinguished psychotherapist, Anthony Storr. He tells how he once had a woman patient who asked if they might sit quietly together. He agreed. He could have read a book or looked out of the window but he chose instead to share the silence with her. At the end of fifty minutes she rose with a smile, thanked him and said, ‘That has been one of the best sessions ever!’ Clearly in that shared silence something clicked within her.

‘There is a time for words, and there is a time for silence.’ Meditation can help to activate the inner ear as well as the inner voice. It can make us better at knowing when to speak – and when to listen.


6 thoughts on “A time for listening”

  1. May I offer a treasured essay by Fenella Bennetts from the July 30, 1975 Home Forum Page of The Christian Science Monitor? It’s called “Full Silence.”

    “Friendship is like music – sometimes the full orchestra, sometimes the chamber ensemble, the unaccompanied suite, or the pause between movements.

    “Music is not only sound: silence is one of its elements. And silence is not a void. It can be filled with the glow of sound just heard; or promise of sound to come; the thrill of the unexpected; the poise of an interlude; or the poignancy of a told truth. Silence points up sound, prepares us for it, gives relief from it, enables beginnings to be born from endings.

    “Friendships have silences in them. Maybe these silences too are basic elements of friendship. They don’t have to be tear-filled or fear-filled. What we fill them with is up to us. They can be love-filled silences. They have their own particular music which we often need to play unaccompanied. They are growing seasons, teeming with quiet, invisible activity, like the resting in winter when each must tend to his own roots. The next budding and blooming is not in question on account of it, but assured because of it.

    “These silences may last for hours, weeks or years; but the point of reentry is precise if the arc is faithfully drawn – if the thread of love remains constant. And then how vibrant the sound, how fruitful the interchange.

    “But what about silences of remorse, of doubt, hatred or neglect? Even the greatest Master of all time was dealt a silence like this by his friends in his most crucial hour. But perhaps it only seemed silence to the onlooker. Was the silence filled with sound to him, filled with the presence of the One who is Love?”


    1. Dear James, I was so happy to have stumbled across your blog on New Year’s Day! And equally happy that you remember this humble seeker after these many years. I would love to be in touch more fully, but I’m fairly new to this internet business and reluctant to post my email for all the world to see. Do you have access to my email address from my comment sign up form? Or do you have an email of your own you use publicly? Or are you still at the BPG address? Let me know – we’ll find a way. Meanwhile, all love, Susan

  3. DEAR SUSAN, MY E-MAIL IS: j.rooseevans@btinternet.com

    and if you write to me care of The Bleddfa Centre, Bleddfa, Knighton, Powys, LD7 1 NA
    your letter will be forwarded and i will then send you my home address in London which is no longer the one you had. i am at the moment down in Salisbury launching a new production of 84 Charing Cross Road, – where the original production was launched -and we open on fEB 6TH AND I RETURN TO lONDON ON fEB 8TH. with love James

  4. James,
    Your interest in silence reminds me of a weekend at Valley Studio when we hosted a group of high school students from Milwaukee. I was leading the students in some partner exercises, but was unsuccessful in getting them to quieten down. It was probably due to the excitement of being away from home in the city and enjoying the wilderness of the Wisconsin River Valley. Finally I said, “We’ll enjoy this much more if we will quit talking. We can then SHARE SILENCE. For a while they were quitter, and after one exercise there was about ten seconds of silence. One girl, excitedly said, “Are we SHARING SILENCE now?” My restrained response was, “Well we were. Weren’t we?”

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