The central prayer in Judaism is the Shema, or Sh’ma. The Sh’ma proclaims the singular nature of God. It translates to: “Hear, o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The first word, and the name of the prayer, Sh’ma, means hear, or listen. In order to really listen, one must quiet oneself. It’s interesting, then, that “Sh’ma” starts with the sound of “Shhhhhh!”
Shortly before her death, Maya Angelou famously tweeted, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” But, how do you listen to yourself and hear only quietude, and not the multitude of thoughts that clutter our minds from moment to moment? How do we listen, in the way suggested by the Sh’ma, with a shushing of our minds?
Some faiths encourage the use of props. Many practitioners of Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism and Hinduism utilize prayer beads to quiet the mind and focus on the components or repetition of a prayer or mantra.
The techniques of mindfulness, derived from the practice of Buddhism, have as an intended consequence the quieting and focusing of the mind. A very simple way to get started on a path of mindfulness is to sit quietly and pay attention to the mechanics of your breathing; label the activity of breathing as it occurs, thinking, “This is my in breath…. This is my out breath.” Notice the pause between breaths. The idea is that mindful practices will spill into the rest of your life, helping you to really appreciate your circumstances and let go of worries about the past or the future.
Until recently, I always had trouble allowing myself to be quiet and enjoy the moment. I never wanted to just “hang out,” because I thought I would be wasting my time; I had to be doing, making, sharing things. Sitting on a couch and talking and laughing with friends was time that I wasn’t making a movie or organizing an event.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I taught myself to sit still and just enjoy being in the presence of friends, without an agenda. When my paramour of the time and I owned a downtown art gallery, called, of course, Daisybrain, we needed to sit there in the store all day for it to really be a business. Our local cast of characters would come to us throughout the day and just hang out at the gallery. It was entertaining and, thinking back on it, that was a very saisfying time in my life. We still got things done – shows, ‘zines, street theater, dinner salons….
Just now, at this breakfast cafe, I looked up from my typing and asked my wife if she was looking forward to eating the great looking slices of fresh pineapple on her plate. She replied, “I’m just eating the thing I’m eating.” She just blew my mind.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” – Mother Teresa
Below this flower, I have placed some ideas for slowing down and quieting your mind: