Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stopping & Paying Attention
Is What Finally Awakens Us

''Silence,' wrote Herman Melville, 'is the one and only voice of god.' What is it trying to tell us? In order to follow inner wisdom, we have to first know it. In order to know it, we have to hear it; to hear it, we have to be still. Habits are so deeply ingrained that in spite of the best intentions, we fall back into mindless behavior. It is stopping and paying attention that awakens us. I still have on my desk the conch shell I picked up at the beach on my second day of silence. Listen, it continues to remind me. Listen to what you can hear when you are being still.'
--from Listening Below the Noise--A Meditation on the Practice of Silence, by Anne LeClaire.


At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, so, true.


At 1:39 PM, Anonymous (Mike Q) said...


At 2:28 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Excellent. Carry on...

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Sounds like a book to seek out. I'll do so. I have others like it, and can think of still more.

I sometimes spend entire days in silence, living alone as I do. It's a good exercise, and a good meditation practice.


At 11:31 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for stopping by, as always, Art. May your silence be fruitful.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom John,

The Jewish philosopher/rabbi Moses ben Maimon -- called Maimonides or Rambam -- wrote in the 10th century that the only real prayer that can be offered to God is silence.

When I've taught meditation practices to junior high and high school students the hardest challenge was to tolerate silence; it scares them.



At 7:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now there's a name that's a sight for sore eyes. So glad to see your name here again, Jeff. You're certainly right that silence is pretty countercultural.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Mike Q said...

(Still thinking ....)

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Hmmmm - I wrote about a "loud silence" this week too. Maybe all of our lives are too noisy.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We often seem to be on similar pages, Diane. Anyway, thanks for noticing. And I LOVE your new poetry collection, which I'll share with readers soon.

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Donna said...

Hi John:

Being a reader and one half of a childless couple, I spend a lot of time in a quiet place. I like to contemplate what I've read or the twists and turns of my life. But I have to say there are times when that quietness gets to be a bit much and sometimes as I sit and contemplate I realize what I need most at that moment is more human connection - big, loud, undignified, noncerebral, uproarious human connection.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

True enough, Donna. But remember that I meant noise in the largest possible sense. I know you Twitter, for instance, which in my view would easily qualify as noise in one's life, perhaps not unlike taking care of a young child for a good part of the day. Different, though, naturally, but still life noise.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

John - hope everything is okay. Haven't heard from you for a while! I'm hoping to meet you on the 28th at the Writer's Conference.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Donna said...

Hi John:

You are correct about Twitter being noise. I think I became a bit of an addict during the long, cold winter nights when I felt socially isolated, but I realized it was taking over too much of my life. Thus, I decided to give it up for Lent and try to spend my free time in more productive ways.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Diane, that's fabulous that you'll be there at the writer's conference on the 28th. It's about time to put a face to that prose poetry of yours. Really looking forward to meeting you. And I'm fine. Just too busy lately (in part helping too many recently out of work friends find their next thing) to blog, but I'll be getting back to it any moment. Promise.

Donna, I think you could start an interesting trend: giving up Twitter for Lent. Love it. I'm sure you'll only appreciate it all that much more when you get back to it, just as I will with this blog! Taking a break renews one's energy for the battle. As my mentor Bill Zinsser likes to say, "change is a tonic." I've always loved that ringing phrase of his.

At 10:42 PM, Anonymous not such a savant said...

"To aquire knowledge, one must study; but to aquire wisdom, one must observe."

-Marilyn Vos Savant

At 11:25 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'd have to agree with that.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Tangential to silence is the issue of silence becoming a source of angst rather than paying attention. Listening really is essential. Listening is also one way past the dreaded writer's block.

On that side-topic, I though you might be interested in this, as block is also a topic you've discussed before:

Writer's Block at Pics and Poems.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Like just about everything, Art, silence, when practiced as an end in itself rather than in moderation toward some larger goals, turns bad.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Word Worker said...

Thought you and your readers might enjoy this . . .

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly NEOLOGISM CONTEST, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp

8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash

9. Flatulence (n..) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.),(back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

At 11:47 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Word Worker.

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous a friend said...

If you are busy helping people with difficult times, maybe you could use a little pick-me-up. Can't think of a better use of words.

US Postal Service at its best

This is one of the kindest things you may ever see. It is not known who replied, but there is a beautiful soul working in the dead letter office of the US postal service.

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, 'To Meredith' in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, 'When a Pet Dies.' Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven.

Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and send ing it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I'm easy to find, I am wherever there is love.


At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Julie Ann said...

Happiness Quotation from Leonardo da Vinci.

"One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself."

-From the "Happiness Project" Got the link through you some time ago.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for that, Julie Ann (possibly a first-time commenter?). So lovely to see the happiness project mentioned again, and coming back to us in this echoing way. Love it, as well as the Leonardo quote. It no doubt sounded even lovelier in its original Italian!

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous stan said...

A website was sure you and your readers would get a kick out of . . . .

At 2:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, that is quite a site. Thanks for sharing it, Stan.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this with us John. The idea of silence and listening in that silence is akin to listening for God in our prayers, which many people miss. I often think we should live our lives as a prayer, which means paying attention to the silence and being at one with the silence which is actually God within us. If we're at one with the silence, we're at one with ourselves. I think living in the silence should be our greatest aspiration, and prayer, yoga, long walks, journaling, and physical tasks like gardening and painting, alone, get us there. All goes well in that silence. -Claudia

At 10:36 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I couldn't have said it any better, Claudia. You've hit it precisely.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well said, Claudia. Your thoughts are in line with many wise spiritual teachers, from many traditions. You state it very clearly.

I'll go back to keeping mum now.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

No need to remain mum, Art. We value you most when you're not being mum. In any event, I'll be resuming within the next day or two. Looking forward to renewing our conversation, everyone.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous young upstart said...


At 6:25 AM, Anonymous jaymie said...

"Musicians are particularly articulate on the importance of silence, both in the process and in the score. 'The notes I handle no better than many pianists,' said the musician Artur Schnabel. 'But the pauses between the notes--ah, that is where art resides.'"

-from Listening Below the Noise

Hope your quiet time has been beautiful and productive.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Jaymie. It has indeed.

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous ari said...

"Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow, grow."

- the Talmud

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous what i heard today said...

Do you think you will find happiness when you have just the right job, the right mate, all your ducks lined up in a row? If you find happiness today while you are in need and pain, it will be yours forever.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Ari. I like that passage from the Talmud almost as much as I like first-time commenters. Hope you'll come back often.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous charlotte said...

To "What I heard . .":

I don't know if I agree with that, but I do think if we find happiness in the hard times, we know a true path to follow. Happiness, or I think more deeply a sense of satisfaction or joy, must be found each day. I have found that even in times of intense sorrow, I can find something that releases me from focussing on myself and connects me with others and the world beyond myself. It is that connectedness we seek.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderfully said, Charlotte (yet another first-time commenter, I believe. Welcome!). Actually, this string reminds me of some research I recently read about that purported to prove that happy people tend to have good life outcomes, rather than good life outcomes making people happy. I think that squares with what anyone can easily observe in life.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree, and nicely said. Thank you for really listening and responding.

I was a first time commenter too.

-What I heard today

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous marsha said...

Hi. Love all these posts on silence and solitude. This morning in my journal as I was organizing my time and commitments for the week, I was also focusing on these words from Julia Cameron: "Savoring this life becomes an automatic and appropriate response the minute I dispense with velocity and pressure." That's my goal this week: productivity without the application of self-imposed internal pressure. It makes for better work, at least from me. Okay, back to work. . .

At 11:27 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nice stuff, Marsha. Julia Cameron is an inspiration to an awful lot of writers, though until recently I tended to think it was mostly a female phenomena. But I've learned plenty of guys like her too. Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous glen said...

Found a blog that seems to fit nicely with your theme:

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

-Albert Einstein

At 12:32 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Glen. I love that site and especially that wonderful quote from Einstein. I'm overwhelmed by the wonderful comments that continue to be added here. Thanks, everyone.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous frank said...

Sort of miss your political commentary so thought to add mine, which I do with apologies if I mess up the mood of your blog. Be patient, I do tie this to the subject at hand . . .

"Let me say this as clearly as I can," Obama said. "The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical ... in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject."The U.S. president is trying to mend fences with a Muslim world that felt it had been blamed by America for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "America's relationship with the Muslim community," he said, "cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.""We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world, including in my own country," he said.

Deeply appreciated these words and this attempt at building bridges. I watch eagerly each day to see what this young president is up to, and I must say he seems to be listening instead of telling others what they should be hearing despite all evidence to the contrary, like others have tried.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Frank. Please don't worry about messing up any mood here. We value all intelligent contributions, on any subject at all. I also liked what he had to say on that subject. Lord knows, the U.S. is long overdue on the listening vs. talking front.

At 11:00 PM, Anonymous stan said...

Suppose you saw this:

Heh, heh. Showed it to my son. He had a very colorful reply and enjoyed it immensely. I saw the video mentioned above the article too, Obama's address to young Muslims in Turkey. Very impressive, and reassuring as well to see the "massive tanker" of our country begin to turn in a new direction. Thank God.

At 11:34 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We've got a very long way to go still. Let's just hope the Bush-Cheney duo and their many henchmen didn't do any permanent damage, Stan.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous jodie said...

Instead of just wishing "Happy Easter," I have longed for a sense of holiness, so pass on the poem I wrote last night. Hope it might be meaningful to you and that you don't mind my sending it.

Hallowed Echoes

Holy Days
to be wholly thine
to be wholly here
all of the time.
To live in the moment
with heart open wide
without any fear
with nothing to hide
completely broken
holey sublime.


Since one of my kids looked at the poem and said "I hate poetry, I never understand it," (gotta love honesty) I offer an explanation of the last 2 lines:

To me, Christ brings the idea of completeness and brokenness together.
"Holey" carries the ideas of vulnerability and woundedness.

maybe it is not ok that I sent this, but if anyone finds religious topics offensive, I deeply apologize.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous jodie said...

p.s. Finished the Anne LeClaire book. Thank you so much for so many of the resources you have mentioned, they have made a huge difference in my life. Although some may argue that the above poem espouses being "in the moment" over being "heavenly minded," I have had a growing sense of the divine hand everywhere I turn, and wonder if perhaps the lesson for me has been it doesn't have to be just one or the other; it can, we can be whole.

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous dan said...

"Holey" -- wierd word choice. That being said, I couldn't get it off of my mind yesterday, and thought what Jodie had to say was profound. It put me in just the frame of mind I wanted to approach this season with, and was having trouble getting there. I am thinking about getting LeClaire's book. Arg! Next thing you know I will be going to chick flicks with my wife.

Go Tribe!

At 11:15 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good for you, Dan. And going to the occasional chick flick with the wife isn't such a bad idea, generally. You can take turns with the kind of movies guys tend to like. Hell, there's even occasional overlap between the two.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom John,

I've speculated that your non-blogging is perhaps related to Lent. If so, I applaud your sacrifice as a worthy one and I look forward to your return on Monday. If not, I hope that whatever is keeping you away is taken care of soon. I miss you.

In the meantime, I've read LeClaire's book and posted my thoughts that you and your readers might enjoy.



At 12:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're a shrewd dude, Jeff. I'm looking forward to our next cocktail-fueled conversation at Nighttown. We can toast the spring!

At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Easter egg from Clark Hoyt, public editor of the NYTimes.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous claire said...

“How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays;
And their uncessant labours see
Crowned from some single herb or tree:
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flowers and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.”

From “The Garden”
by Andrew Marvell, 1681

Thought this was lovely. Happy Easter to all.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, folks. Happy easter to you as well.


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