Silent waiting

I have attended my first Quaker meeting. I’ve been meaning to visit for a while now, but you know how it goes: you never remember at the right time. But this week, a friend of mine was in town, some friends of hers invited her to the meeting, she invited me to come along, and away we went. Not wanting to be a bad visitor, I’d done a smidgen of research ahead of time. On their website, there was the following:

Twin Cities Friends Meeting (TCFM) practices unprogrammed silent worship, without ministers or prepared ministry of any kind. We wait together silently in faith that divine spirit, or an irresistible sense that we have a message to share with our fellow worshippers, may visit us at any time.

I was intrigued, but uncertain. Up until now, whether I’ve been at a Protestant service, a Catholic mass, or a Pagan ritual, there’s been direction, activity, and sound. In my experience, you find silence in solitary practice, and the closest I’ve come to it in group worship is a few minutes of silent centering at the beginning of a service or ritual, usually accompanied by quiet instrumental music. So how exactly would a group of people manage silence? How was I going to manage it? This was clearly not a situation in which to bring knitting (hey, I’ve been to UU services with multiple knitters in the pews!). I suspected I was going to be bored if I was awake. More likely, I was going to fall asleep, and the best I could hope for was that I didn’t fall out of my chair or use my neighbor as a pillow.

Twin Cities Friends Meeting (Quakers)

I did doze several times in that hour. I stayed mostly upright and I was reassured that this was “normal” by hearing gentle snoring when we entered (we were a few minutes late) and seeing other people nodding off. Much of the time that I was awake, I looked around the room or read the visitors brochure I’d brought in with me. But every now and then, I managed a meditative state for a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting to, not while sitting in an unfamiliar room surrounded by strangers, but the things that distract me at home when I try to meditate weren’t there and maybe that was enough.The brochure suggested some ways of sitting in silence that I associate with meditation, such as focusing on your breath or observing your thoughts, so it sounds like the meeting is intended as an hour of meditation even if they don’t describe it that way. I was encouraged just by those occasional slips into a meditative state—perhaps I actually can learn to meditate.

Only one person was moved to speak, almost at the end of the meeting. She had an anecdote involving a bowl with raspberries painted on it, wood chips, and recognizing moments of joy when they happen. I’m told that usually several people speak during a meeting, so this one was unusually quiet. I’d have to come to another few meetings to be sure, but as first impressions go, I liked the quiet and I liked this short message rather than a 20-minute sermon.

Other random thoughts, observations, and memories:

  • My friend had asked if it was all right to drink coffee during the meeting, and her friend had thought maybe not. So imagine my surprise when a woman sat down next to me with a cup of tea. But we’re guests—what do we know about what’s acceptable here? Then at the close of the meeting, the woman turned to me and apologized for drinking the tea—”but if I hadn’t, I’d have been coughing for the whole hour.” I so sympathize. And the tea did have a pleasant fragrance.
  • Young children are not expected to attend the meeting. They spend most of the hour in First Day School—”Quakerese for Sunday School” says the website—and come back to join the adults for the last ten minutes. I’m guessing that both gives them practice in sitting quietly and begins to bring the adults back to everyday reality.
  • I associate music with religion and spirituality, both instrumental music and singing. I can see why there isn’t any music during the meeting, but I would miss it if I never heard it under any circumstances.

Would I go back again? I might. The meeting was peaceful, and it would probably be worth going back just for that peace. Also, I haven’t experienced a meeting in which more people felt called to share something. Sitting in silence, trying to be open to “the Light Within” doesn’t conflict with any of my values. So we’ll see.

Beyond the morning pages

I journal. There are all kinds of journals out there: travel, food, spiritual, gardening, dream, gratitude, and more. My knitting/crafting blog probably fits the definition of a journal; my accounts on LibraryThing and Goodreads are my versions of reading journals. But what I think of as my journal is the book I write in daily, usually first thing in the morning. No specific topic or anything, just a recording of whatever thoughts happen to be going through my head while the pen is in my hand. It took me the longest time to realize that I’d slipped back into the habit of morning pages. I’d done morning pages years ago after reading The Artist’s Way, but I’d let the practice go after a while and hadn’t expected to pick it up again. Still, something in the back of my mind remembered it, and when I got back into the habit of journaling regularly, morning pages it was.

Morning pages are supposed to stimulate your creativity. I’m not sure whether they’re doing that for me generally—I knitted a lot both when I was and wasn’t journaling—but I think they’ve been nudging me to get more creative with my journaling. Years before I read The Artist’s Way, I read The New Diary. It showed me that journals could be much more than a log of the events of your day. Between it and The Journal Wheel Guide Book, I learned that your journal entries could also be more than just paragraphs of first-person prose. You could dialogue with something or someone in your life.  Or make lists: things you want to do, your favorite books, the five things that scare you the most. Pour your heart out to people in letters that will never be mailed. Write about yourself in third person to get some perspective on your issues.

fountain pen and journal
photo credit: JoelMontes via photopin cc

I also want to try some of those other kinds of journals. Okay, not a travel journal—those work much better if you actually travel. But perhaps committing to keep a dream journal would motivate me to go to bed early and try to get enough sleep so that I could remember my dreams in the first place (because wanting to get enough sleep for its own sake obviously isn’t working). And spiritual journaling sounds intriguing as all get-out. I read books like Life’s Companion and Journal Keeping, and think that maybe this is a spiritual practice that I’d actually keep up. I mean, I journal now, so I’m already in the habit; it would be more a matter of journaling differently.

But what will happen to the morning pages if I try these other approaches? I only have so much writing time and energy, and I think that’s what’s kept me from putting energy into these other kinds of journaling up until now. If I write morning pages, there goes the journaling energy for the day. If I write out a dialogue, I’m betting no brain dumping will get done that day. Do other kinds of journaling stimulate your creativity or are they better for other things like maintaining your emotional balance or spiritual development? I’m worried that if I throw myself into non-morning pages journaling, I will cut off the creativity that’s leading me to try those other forms in the first place. But even the most productive freewriting feels limiting when it’s the only thing you do, and that’s hardly creative. Won’t know unless I try, I guess.


Books I mentioned

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (1992)

Journal Keeping: Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice by Carl J. Koch (2003)

The Journal Wheel Guide Book: Set the Wheel in Motion for Positive Changes in Your Life by Deborah Bouziden (2001)

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Christina Baldwin (1990, 2007)

The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer (1978, 2004)