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The Precious Gift of Silence


From a sermon given on October 26th 1997
At a worship service in Newport, RI

Two weeks from now marks the 3rd anniversary of a bone marrow transplant I received to save my life from Acute Leukemia. My donor is still anonymous to me. I want to dedicate what I am about to say to him. I don’t know if years from now I will still be talking about this event in my life, but for now it is still not very far from my daily consciousness and it is because of the events of the last four years, that many aspects of me have died (including my own bone marrow  – the very core of my body) and along with it old wounds, pain, core beliefs and habitual thinking.  It would take me literally days to relay to you all that I learned from the experience of healing my life while undergoing treatment for Leukemia which resulted in over 10,000 hours of needing to be basically still and quiet either in isolation in a hospital room or recovering at home, much of the time alone. However,  I’m going to share now, a few precious morsels of wisdom I gained along with a quote and a poem, the writers of each being much more eloquent than I could ever be.

In his book, The Sacred Hub: Living in the Real Self, Robert Rabbin relates great wisdom in a very little story:

“A Buddhist Monk was taken to hear the Boston Symphony perform Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. When it was over, the monk cried out, “Not enough Silence!”

Rabbin goes on to instruct:

“We should become friends with silence. Silence helps us to see the seductive power of our own justifications, the way we become sure and proud of our ideas and positions, our views and our solutions. Silence is the communion we call love. Silence is in the heart of all things.”

He goes on to say:

“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. We fall into this subtle awareness and are cleansed of bitterness and fear.  In silence, everything just happens, without manipulation, without fear and grasping. But this happening occurs only in silence.”

When I began the arduous journey of Leukemia treatment which resulted in 7 months of hospital stays and recovery over a period of 2 1/2 years, my first recognition was that I was given the opportunity to finally slow down. 4 years ago, I had an appointment book that was so full, I was actually anxious about taking the time to brush my teeth in the morning for fear I wouldn’t get everything done! I was a doing addict.

In one full sweep of a day I had no more appointments except with doctors, nurses, various procedures and tests, and to my horror, all were scheduled in their time frame, not mine! Very quickly I was to learn that if I didn’t let go of my compulsion to control my environment, I would surely go crazy or worse, get in the way of Nature’s healing powers and a possible cure. It was then that I realized that every moment could be an appointment with The Great Mystery (what many call God) because I no longer had any control over what my body was going to do. If I had any chance of surviving at all, I was now going to have to turn my life over to experts I didn’t even know… and to The Great Mystery.

Now I could focus on going inward. Time now seemed like an eternity. The only thing left to do about time was to live it moment by moment. As my body and bone marrow began to destruct and I began to feel sicker and sicker as a consequence of the heavy doses of chemotherapy, I had no choice but to slow down more and more and more. With very few living blood cells left in my body, my body became very still and quiet.

In this new quietness, I was able to move deeper into a very profound silence especially at night. In this deep place was the most exquisite feeling of gratitude. This feeling had eluded me for almost my entire life. Now that I was near death, and steeped in the mystery of whether I would come out of this ordeal alive, I finally discovered the bliss I always knew existed but hadn’t a clue how to achieve. Gratitude is a beautiful and very fulfilling experience. It swells the heart with love. I was grateful for so many things. The view of NYC’s Central Park just outside my window and the vast green that went as far as the eye could see. The daily visits and phone calls from family, friends and people I hadn’t spoken to or heard from in more than thirty years. My doctor’s grandfatherly warmth and sense of humor. All the people who donated platelets so that my body wouldn’t hemorrhage. The chemicals that entered my body destroying almost every cell so as to clear the way for healthy new life to emerge. Grateful for the opportunity to watch my thoughts rise and fall, to feel my body move in and out of discomfort, the opportunity of choice and free will. Grateful for The Great Mystery’s wondrous creations and my partnership in that.

I had been given a disease that would most probably kill me and I was grateful?
Because I went inward and found bliss in silence. This to me is what worship truly is. An acknowledgment of the glory of creation and choice. And in our own hearts we find it. I discovered that in my own heart, everything I ever prayed for was there. This worship, this proclamation of holiness (that which is whole) heals lives in the most profound way. Because it brings us in to the here and now with full acceptance. There is no past. There is no future. Only wholeness in the now.

It was during this experience that I was able to accept my mother’s love completely for the first time. After a lifetime of pushing her away – often with callousness and lack of compassion – because of anger at her controlling behavior and a fear that my very being would be swallowed up by her invasiveness, I finally chose to experience her love and be embraced by it. And of course I embraced her with mine. This was the end of our past. It’s really over. Today I sit in her lap and call her mommy. I give her big hugs and kisses. I cherish her physical closeness and warmth and I laugh when she is not behaving as the Goddess I know she is.  And as we grow closer and continue listening to and learning from each other, we are both maturing together with mutual respect and acknowledgement that we are treasures in each other’s lives. This is what I would call a miracle.

I learned that the body is a temple of wisdom and a great teacher. Because there was nothing left to do on days when I would be alone for hours, I explored the ever-changing waves of feeling and sensation that were sometimes extremely uncomfortable and learned how to replace judgement with acceptance. There was a newfound awareness of the difference between need and want. I paid attention to the vibrations of the sensations and let my body speak through rippling sound and movements which were expressed through my voice and on days when I was strong enough through dance. This I knew intuitively would assist the new cells to be born and emerge as healthy and vital.

I was able to see my bone marrow as a metaphor for my life. I spent a great deal of time transferring my sense of my bone marrow  – the very core of my body being diseased  – and asked my self in the silent moments “What is core in my life that needs to die and become reborn”? I discovered from listening in the stillness that I had been injecting a core belief into every interaction, every relationship, every good or bad circumstance that nothing would ever work out for me. That I was a victim of this and that no matter how hard I tried or worked (and I worked hard), or visualized, an abundant life would forever allude me. I then realized I could make the choice to design a new belief that would replace the old malfunctioning one. While my bone marrow was dying and being reborn, the roots of a life time of emotional pain could now be dug up to be replaced with the joyous affirmation: Everything always works out for me, even in death! This became my daily mantra. Infused with this thought, the healing of body, mind and spirit began.

Although my body was dying, I was coming alive. My spirit was breaking free and ego was being transformed into a heightened awareness of reality and it’s ultimate beauty.

As I recovered from the bone marrow transplant, I continued to have the luxury of eternal time. I say eternal because I could not foresee myself being the doing addict ever again. Everyday was like forever. The anti-rejection drugs were intense. I was tired. I was extremely weak. Muscles had atrophied. I was in and out of the hospital with life threatening infections and pneumonia.

Once the hospital stays were over, I began to explore the freedom of making choices about how I was going to spend my time based on impulse, my body’s readiness and desire. I had all the time in the world. As my body regenerated I felt new strength and new health. I was emerging from the silence. Slowly, I crept back out into the world. I had new vision. All of creation was wondrous. I could stare at a blooming flower for minutes marveling at the miracle of color and texture and shape and elegance. When I moved to Newport in the middle of all this, because of my family’s generosity, I was able to live right on the harbor, with an immense lawn right outside my back door leading to the water. I stood barefoot in the lush grass feeling the body of the earth connected to my own body and again would enter the silence which now was a trusted friend and which I knew would always lead me to that luscious state of gratitude, compassion and love.

More months were spent appreciating the insignificance of my tiny life and yet the immensity of it in its connection to all life, all lives and that which I cannot see but can just feel. I began the practice of yoga and would cry almost everyday during practice or in class when I felt surges of energy – the life force filling my body with an intensity I had never experienced. During my drives to New York City for my medical check-ups, I was fascinated by my ability to go exactly 50-55 miles an hour for three hours without a radio or CD. Quiet – just watching the trees and the terrain go by. It is no accident that peace and quiet go together! 

It is two years later. My life is new. And now I have more energy than I ever had. In two years I have not stopped creating. I am watching myself manifest. My purpose is clear – to assist others in discovering their authentic nature – to use crisis, disease, illness or transition as transformational guideposts. And to keep discovering where my own path leads. I am learning anew from a different perspective (one of health) how to enter that quiet place – that silence – the slow turtle like pace where all that is begins. Where my heart knows God.

Robert Rabbin gives us another pearl:

“We cannot hear silence, we become silence. To become silence, we must enter silence. We can enter through the narrow gap between two thoughts. We can also enter through that still point where our breath is perfectly at rest between inhalation and exhalation. And back again”.

I can do this when I slow myself down. But now I have to be reminded. And I find reminders in the most unlikely places! Just yesterday I was pouring water from my kitchen faucet. A water saving device had been installed years ago. Not much water pressure. And as if the flow wasn’t slow enough, we installed a water filter. It has its own faucet. Much narrower than the original. It took forever to fill a glass. I found myself getting impatient. The doing addict was trying to take over. I could feel my body constrict. It was really uncomfortable. Then I remembered! “Oh, now this is teaching me to slow down”. And I felt my feet on the ground. I allowed gravity to take over and sunk into it. “Ahhh, I surrender. This feels better. There’s nothing else but the here and now”. I got interested in the water flow and the miracle it is.

“How does this relate to my life?” you might be asking. “How can I apply this to my own experience?”

I am not suggesting you get a life threatening disease in order to heal your life, to love life or to commune with God. But there are things you can do every day to remind yourself of your essence, to enter into that solitary place where wounds of the past have no place – where past and future are non existent. Just here and now reality. The precious present. There are so many ways – so many paths. And if you really listen, you will know what is right for you. You’ll be able to see the guideposts. It’s all there. You just need to pay attention. One thing you can do right now. Take a day off. A real day off. Not because you’re sick; not because you need a mental health day; not because you have too much to do and need the day to catch up; not to take care of somebody else. But to experiment with what it is to be just yourself and let the world go on without you – to go slow enough to notice. To notice your breath, your heartbeat, your thoughts, your discomfort, your pain, your fear, your resistance, your compulsion, your noisiness, your nature, your love, your uniqueness, your life, how it came to be – what you are creating – what’s sill in the way of your freedom.

Perhaps Rumi, the great Afghani 13th century mystic and poet says it best:

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with a thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die.
And be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon
Comes out now.

©  2009 Miriam Goldsmith
All Rights Reserved



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