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GUEST COLUMNIST | Three ways to find silence in our digital age

One day, I was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. It was a bright, sunny day and the ocean was sparkling. I spotted a few empty parking spots along the side of the road and, totally on a whim, pulled into one. I rolled up the driver’s window to block some of the traffic noise but kept the other one down. This made the rhythmic sound of the ocean waves more prominent.

I sat in the car, closed my eyes and just listened for three minutes. I felt such a sense of calm, even among all the tasks that had crowded my day, that I still remember that feeling months later.

Those three minutes in the car were not silent. I could hear all kinds of sounds around me, but what was important was that my heart was silent. In that inner silence, I found peace and serenity. How often in our daily lives do we long for moments like that — calm, peaceful and still — only to find that they consistently elude our grasp?

Alongside the sounds of life, the digital world provides plenty of sound, noise and input that fills not only our ears but our brains, sometimes to the point where we feel overloaded with visual, audible and intellectual stimuli. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but where do we draw the line to find the balance we need? And why bother? Because silence connects us with God, others and ourselves.

Here are some things to remember:

1. Silence is a choice.

Well, ambient silence may not be, such as traffic or chainsaw noise, but we can choose to be interiorly silent. Pope Benedict XVI talked about having an “ecosystem” that favors silence.

“When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary,” he wrote in 2012. “It is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.”

Make it a point to set up times and/or places for yourself where silence is the default. Maybe it’s unplugging from media during your commute to work or designating a special room or corner in your home where you can sit in silence.

2. Use silence to enter into contemplation.

On a recent road trip to lead a retreat, I was listening to an audiobook novel to help pass the six-hour drive time. Eventually, I turned off the book and just drove in silence. It gave me the perfect opportunity to be in touch with God’s love for me and to pray for the people I was going to meet the next day.

God’s voice is the most important one to hear each day, but we can only hear it when we are silent ourselves. During your morning routine, carve out a few minutes to silently connect with God. Ask God to bless your day and give you the courage to seek and follow His will for you.

3. Practice silence in your relationships.

The Letter of St. James says, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). True, authentic communication begins with listening. That means being silent so as to hear the needs of the other, whether those needs are expressed in words or not.

Even if ambient silence isn’t always possible, my heart and soul can be peaceful and still, trusting in God because inner silence is possible despite the cacophony around me. So, if you’re feeling frustrated from the digital, mechanical or relational “noise” you experience, be patient. Interior silence comes with prayer and practice.

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