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Listening to silence

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Listening to silence

Taking time to truly reflect.

At least once each year I get into my car and drive for five or six hours from where I live in Southern California, up the coast, to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur.

New Camaldoli is a beautiful place, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. That is not the primary reason I go there. I can watch hawks soaring overhead and see other birds, deer, and other wildlife. That is not the main reason I go there. At night, the sky is filled with more stars than I can remember. Even that is not the reason I go to New Camaldoli.

"Reflection is more like peripheral vision, while analyzing is more like staring at something." 

I go to New Camaldoli to listen to silence.

I was brought up believing that life was about getting things done, finding the right answer. My value, my significance, was based on my ability to accomplish goals. I grew up, stayed in school, and dove into the world to discover right answers.

I practiced law, becoming a criminal prosecutor. I worked with several companies and organizations in different cities. I did my best to do my best, to become a leader and serve people well. I was on a mission to learn the right answers and share them with others.

I was effective at taking action and getting things done, focused on analyzing my way to answers and reasons. I worked hard. There never seemed to be much time for reflection.

There came a time when I recognized that even though I was doing important work well, and had nice things, I was not satisfied, not fulfilled. It felt unfair. It felt like even though I had done what I was supposed to do, made good choices, I was not getting what I had earned.

I was doing what I was expected to do, but I was not happy.

I began to explore, and found that my exploration drew me more toward reflection than intellectual analysis.

Though I was able to organize and analyze well, these questions were different. It was not a matter of being efficient or finding solutions that would satisfy other people. These questions were about appreciating what was central to who I was. These questions were more about letting go of distractions and finding the deep truths behind them.

Reflecting well takes time. We are often able to think analytically quickly, and to gain momentum as we do. Things may fall into place, and we draw conclusions as we fit the pieces together.

Reflection is often deeper and takes more time. It is more about giving things time to become clearer. Reflection is more like peripheral vision, while analyzing is more like staring at something. 

There is a lot of openness in reflection. It is like mental listening. Analysis can be like cross-examining someone, while reflection is more like listening as someone tells you their story. Rather than struggling to fit things together, people who reflect do not necessarily have specific goals to achieve.

Reflection is not so much listen to hear answers as it is listening to hear what silence has to offer. Being quiet and centered is very helpful for listening to silence.

We live in a society that does not really value or encourage reflection. We are more likely to do extra work during our vacation time than to spend time reflecting. 

It is not easy to do reflection well. It takes time and persistence. People do not become proficient at reflection immediately. It has helped me to build opportunities for reflection into my schedule.

As I have practiced each week, each month each year, reflection has shaped the ways I understand life.

In addition to practicing reflection, I have connected to other people with their own practices. 

Monks have been great sources of advice and support. As my reflection has become stronger, their experience and wisdom has inspired me to continue.

Each year, as I drive north from Los Angeles toward Big Sur, I feel all the questions I am working to analyze release their grip on my attention. The anxieties and tensions that distract me each day start falling away, and I look forward to a few days of listening to silence.   

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Greg Richardson
Greg Richardson
Born in rural Wisconsin, Greg Richardson was raised to be very strategic. His life and work have been a voyage of discovery beyond anything he could have imagined. Greg is a recovering attorney and university professor. He has served as a criminal prosecutor, a legislative advocate, and an organizational leader. Greg has recruited, trained, and developed volunteers and staff members for a wide variety of companies. He brings his experience, focus, and sense of humor to each of his endeavors. Greg is also monastic, a lay person connected to a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California.His experiences with monks have taught him the deep importance of working from a person’s, ad an organization’s core values and principles. Greg is a deeper, clearer listener. He knows the benefits of silence and reflection. In addition to balancing being monastic and strategic, Greg has a strong appreciation for the virtues of craft brewing. He is on a personal pilgrimage of craft breweries in Southern California, and he writes a monthly column about craft brewing for an online magazine. Greg now lives in Southern California.

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