We’re full of it aren’t we?
Chit chat chatter.
I have been glued to BBC iPlayer recently for their series on BBC called Retreat: Meditations From a Monastery. It’s compulsive watching: an hour during which absolutely nothing happens. Nothing and everything. I won’t spoil it. Watch it!
But one thing that struck me was the lack of chatter. It brought back memories of the “silent hour” we used to hold every Wednesday morning at theological college. For that hour, we were asked not to speak to one another; not to make noise; not to greet or even acknowledge one another. We were to give that hour completely to prayer and reflection. To direct our attention to God, and to our inner self. We were liberated from chatter: it was wonderful.
The problem is, we are very good at chatter. We fill silence before it fills us. We try and generate companionship with small talk, and we small talk to make ourselves feel better. Of course, there is a time for this. But silence can be companionable too. The deeper silence of the brothers that featured on the BBC 4 series was inspiring. Their companionship was so deep, and they were so attuned to themselves and to one another, that there was no need for chatter. Small talk was useless, and each community modelled ways of living alongside one another without feeling compelled to fill the silence.
What we didn’t see was how this affected the quality of conversation that the brothers shared. I can guess, from my own experience of silence and community, that those conversations would have been shorter, deeper, and more life-giving that any small talk.
But chatter doesn’t just happen “out there”, does it?
I have recently started a discipline of silence as my first task of the day. Before anyone else is awake, before the sun is up, there is silence.
Inwardly, my mind, flabby as it is from being out of the silent habit, chatters on and on. I am learning to rein in my inner chatter. Small minds talk small. Even to themselves.
I was aware of this inner chatter recently as I led a congregation in 2 minutes’ silence on Remembrance Sunday. Outwardly, we were silent. But inwardly? As a ‘holder of the space’ I was conscious of my own chatter amidst my solemn reflection: Will I time the silence right? Will the recorded music work? Is everyone ok? Will my children keep quiet?
(Ironically, perhaps, the children were as silent and still as any of us, and they were perhaps much better, too, at silencing their inner chatter. What example we could take from them!).
Chatter. We do it to make ourselves feel better. And we do it because it’s bad habit. I wonder what deep-talk we might achieve if we manage to silence our small talk? And I wonder what inner peace we might find, if our minds can break their habit of chatter?