The Intimacy of Shared Silence


We are embraced by silence and silence cares for us deeply. In the embrace of silence we sense the essence of living things radiating loudly — ROBERT RABBIN

To sit in silence with other people is one of the most intimate experiences imaginable.

Most of the time, we deprive ourselves of that intimacy. We avoid silence in social gatherings. It creates discomfort.

If there’s a gap in conversation, we try to fill it with small talk about sports. Politics. Work. Weather. Something. Anything.

The problem is, we dissipate a lot of energy in this way.

If you’re willing to endure shared silence for a few minutes, you’ll discover that on the other side of discomfort is something oddly beautiful.

The people you are most intimate with are the people who are most willing to be silent with you.

One mark of people who have loved each other for decades is the capacity to sit with each other for hours — in silence.


Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know — SENG-TS’AN

When our children were young, we wanted to take them to church.

This was hard.

I’d been raised Lutheran. My pastor once told me that non-Lutherans might not go to heaven. I had friends who weren’t Lutheran. Faced with a choice between heaven and companionship, I chose my friends. And at age 17, I stopped going to church.

But with children of my own, things seemed different. I wanted them to grow up in a spiritual community. It would have to be an open-minded group of people who were willing to create something beautiful and profound in each other’s presence.

So we visited a lot of churches, looking for that.

We drank coffee with Unitarians.

We sang hymns with liberal Baptists.

We event went to some Lutheran churches to see if anything had changed.

We never found what we were looking for.

The Quakers came the closest. They were willing to sit in silence for a while. But then someone would get up to speak, and all the energy drained out of the room.

So we gave up on churches. Instead, we chose to spend an hour every Sunday morning doing yoga and meditation at home with the kids.

Eventually, this worked.

At first, I wanted to fill that hour with content. I prepared little homilies. I chose quotations to read and discuss.

Then I let all that go. We’d pull out our yoga mats, stretch together, and then sit in meditation for a few minutes.

During those weekly minutes of shared silence, I felt closer to my family than ever before.

Our kids are grown and have homes of their own. But am I confident that they will remember the silence.


The more we rest in this silence, the more we come to know it as our essential nature. It is this silent core of being that remains unmoving and unbroken throughout the glories and tragedies of “my life.” When we keep coming back to this silence, we become more rooted in it, even in the midst of the vicissitudes of life, and eventually it is recognized as the backdrop to the movie of “me,” and gives rise to the true fulfillment of our innate wholenessAMODA MAA

Silence is still my main spiritual practice. Actually, I don’t have to “practice” it. I surrender to silence, and the silence “practices” me.

The silence will gently sweep you up and carry you, if you let it.

There are two levels of silence. One is external silence — a reduction of noise in our physical environment.

Entering that level of silence eventually opens up the second level of silence — internal stillness.

You get to that second level if you’re wiling to sit though all the internal noise created by your stream of thoughts.

At first the thoughts come in torrents, like crashing waves. Then, eventually, they slow down. Your mind becomes more like a still lake with sparkles of sunlight glinting off the water.

At that point, you can actually see where thoughts begin and end. And in the gap between two thoughts is a space.

In that space, you’re aware but not thinking.

This is the space that the meditation and yoga teachers talk about. Getting to that space is the purpose of their teachings.

You get there through silence.

At the end of a meditation, when you are feeling more peaceful, stronger, and happier, remind yourself that these feelings came about not because you got something you thought you needed, or because you fooled somebody into thinking that you are worthy of his or her love and affection, but rather because you simply quieted down your mind enough to experience what we all have, all of the time, if we just remember — DEAN ORNISH

Note: The quotes in this article are from:

Photo by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash