I prefer to be up most mornings by 4 a.m. In these quiet hours before darkness reluctantly gives way to the light in our canyon north of Santa Barbara, I read, meditate, write and, truth be told, enjoy the darkness and the silence. When I miss a morning’s early hours of silence, the day that follows seems off-center, a bit eccentric and unbalanced. Such is silence’s power to establish one’s own inner gravity at the beginning of a day.
Robert Sardello’s new book on Silence confirms many of the verities I sense about the power of this essential quality of life. His earlier books, Facing the World with Soul, Freeing the Soul from Fear, and Love and the Soul, to name a few, testify to a characteristic that I have always admired in his work and in his person: he is a bit of a mystic. I say this less to praise him than to place him, to afford him a context within Silence. But lest we forget or fail to mention her, his wife Cheryl Sanders-Sardello is also this book’s co-author. Each chapter begins with what I wish to call a “lyric interlude,” wherein Cheryl offers a one page poetic reflection on the theme of the chapter to follow. Her penetrating reveries push back the cuticle of Silence to expose its further power. Thus this is a co-authored text that breaks new ground in our understanding of Silence as a way of knowing as well as a way of being.
As a phenomenological psychologist, a therapist, a writer fully conversant with the works of Jung, Freud, Gaston Bachelard, Rudolph Steiner, Henry Corbin and the mystical tradition, as well as co-founder of the School of Spiritual Psychology in North Carolina, Sardello has developed a unique voice in what might be called a psychology of reverie, or an imaginal psychology of spirit. While his writing is meditative, it carries a cutting edge precision that invites reverie and dream rather than heady analysis; it promotes a poetics of soul over a partitioning of the person. As a cultural psychologist, he peels back the skin of a fear-based, consumer-driven mythos to reveal the hidden power in Silence, meditation and prayer as antibodies to such debilitating conditions.
Sardello’s meditation on Silence follows in the tradition of one of the most poignant portraits I have ever encountered, Max Picard’s The World of Silence. There Picard claims that “to take language from silence we have made language an orphan. The tongue we speak today is no longer a mother-tongue but an orphaned tongue”(1988, 41). Sardello’s own study retrieves the orphan from a culture that not only denies Silence but actively suppresses it. Silence is not good for business and the business at hand is to consume, to remain distracted, to fill one’s life with the noisy nastiness that Silence denies and in so doing, to remain oblivious.
Sardello’s ideas on Silence are both bold and big: “Our body’s center is the necessary meeting point of where the inward silence of solitude meets up with the great Silence of Cosmic Wisdom”(2006, 8). In his scope and range of connection between Silence and the created order, Sardello thinks epically of Silence’s orbit, not unlike the grand scheme of mythologist Joseph Campbell as he addresses the circumference of myth. My own sense is that Silence is as big as myth both in the individual soul and in the larger atmosphere of cosmos.
A powerful and penetrating Introduction by Therese Schroeder-Sheker outlines Sardello’s inspired prose best: “I had begun to wonder if the author hadn’t had an unspoken Moses-by-the-Burning-Bush experience, and if, in the limitless Love of that non-consuming fire, this burning, radiant, urgent Silence emerged for him as a hidden name for Christ” (Sardello, 2006, xvii-xix). Perhaps glow over burning might also capture Sardello’s mystical musing on Silence’s power. For like Max Picard’s, another voice that echoes in Sardello’s exploration of Silence’s many voices, is the poet John Keats, who immortalized Silence’s power in one of his most famous poems, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:
Thou still unravish’d bride
Thou foster-child of silence
and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst
A flowery tale more sweetly
than our rhyme:” ................(1959, 207, Stanza 1)
Keats and Sardello share a common affinity for Silence’s power to speak, as it were, more poignantly than words themselves often have the capacity to enjoin.
Perusing the Table of Contents reviews and reveals the facets of Silence as an elaborate mosaic of knowing. To name a few: “A Meditation on Silence,” “The Guardian of Silence,” “Entering the Silence,” “Making a Clearing for Silence,” and “Silence, Prayer, and Meditation.” That the word is capitalized throughout his study, and one which I follow here, makes Silence a proper, not a common, noun. Such a designation is proper, because the way Sardello works Silence’s equi-vocal nature places it, for me, in the domain of an archetype, perhaps what C.G. Jung himself called “an archetype of transformation.” Jung develops what he means: “They are not personalities, but are typical situations, places, ways and means, that symbolize the kind of transformation in question”(CW 9/1, ¶80). Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Silence is more akin to an energy field than simply the absence of sound or noise. This latter idea is far too narrow, and actually a provincial attitude towards Silence, as Sardello explores the complex strata of Silence’s geography.
For him, Silence is busy. He lists several of its features: it is not spatial; it whirls, so it is not linear; it is subtle and complexly layered and contains many degrees of depth (Sardello, 2006, 37-38). Neither is Silence passive, but it is receptive; in fact, it is the condition of receptivity as Sardello develops its mysterious qualities. It provides the one in Silence a “meditative attention,” that opens one to the other. Contrary to the brand of egoistic Silence that wounds another person by withholding self from her/him, which is a form of power over another (41). Silence, by contrast, that promotes meditation is an imaginal act of openness.
An area I found particularly provocative is one in which the author develops the place and presence of Silence in conversation with others. Silence, he observes, actually creates “a holy third” in conversation if one imagines a conversation with another that consists of two overlapping circles; the place of the overlap is the vesica; it is, for Sardello, “the space of the holy third” (2006, 44). In a sense that Jung would appreciate, Sardello reveals that when two people are relating, a “third presence is entailed.” Such an interactive field created between the one and the two to create a third, he suggests, “is more ineffable than any archetypal god or goddess” (45). Rather than, as psychology’s impulse moves its theory to reveal how “relating” is in the service of having a better relationship, Sardello turns this notion by suggesting that one intrinsic value to relationships is that they can lead the two people into Silence; Silence’s nature is to be relational (48).
As Robert develops the theory of Silence, the imagination of Silence and in the process offers various exercises to promote a depth of Silence in the reader, Cheryl offers more intimate lyric interludes on Silence. Here is an example:
Entering your room I know I am not alone with you. A holy silence attends you, too, close to your head just there by the window. It seems to have a proprietary attitude, as if you belong more to silence than to me (2006, 50).
As Silence itself is layered, it seems that the two authors wish to claim such layering in the structure and in the perspectives each takes up towards this mysterious human quality of being. Both, in addition, move their meditations on Silence to the world of healing and of Spiritual presenting, where Silence enwombs the one engaging its encompassing orbit. Most particularly, Sardello again writes against the grain of conventional, clichéd thought on spiritual realities, which tend to be placed “out there” somewhere. His intention is to realign thought to allow not “thinking about, but thinking within” spiritual realities (69).
In making such a move, the author aligns himself with another mystic poet, this time of the 14th. century, Dante Alighieri. Here is how. As Dante’s Commedia is a poetic meditation on the way Love itself is a form of intelligence, what he termed “intelleto de amore,” so does Sardello want to entertain how Silence is a “mode of Intelligence, a form of Intelligence.” In fact, it is a form of Wisdom: “As we enter into Silence, we enter into Wisdom” (2006, 69). For Sardello, such a move of the imagination allows us to be present to the world in what seems a vulnerable, open and porous posture. It would also seem to include being present in an engaged and unique way. But forces he critiques in the culture mitigate against such a posture.
He calls those energies that work against Silence, spirit and a vulnerable presence to things “death forces,” which are found in everything prepackaged and which requires “from us only to consume” (Sardello 2006,71). A deadness of soul is the consequence of such thoughtless consumption. Returning to his earlier study, Freeing the Soul from Fear, he believes that one of the on sale prepackages created for mass consumption today is fear. Silence counteracts such a movement in the soul by promoting and engaging what Sardello calls clearing: “There are connections between inner clearing and the practices of religious traditions, particularly to the mystical tradition and initiatory practices….” (74). Two qualities would appear to accompany this clearing: assent and grace. While “assent is a creative act [that] opens the inner heart space for something to be created rather than just performed,” grace is a greater mystery: “Grace is the permeation of our soul with divine love. It is a very palpable bodily feeling. It feels as if we are accompanied by a radiance,….” (77). What his study on Silence seems to be leading us to is a softening of a sclerosis of the heart, a hardening of the heart’s arteries so that one yields into one’s life, and into those of others in a more creative and uniquely personal way. It is also the way into an authentic imaginal life, one that is poetic rather than pedestrian, relational rather than solitary, contemplative rather than consuming.
At the close of his original and engaging exploration, Sardello adumbrates three aspects of the heart’s spirituality worth listing here: “The heart lives in service. The heart lives in healing. The heart lives in worship….They are the primary currents of Silence that together constitute reverence” (2006, 88). His thought on these three attributes or currents of Silence are remarkably close to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of Buddhism outlined in his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life(1994). Both writers engage practices whose intention is to dissolve the furious autonomy of the individual, a condition the Dalai Lama would call a grand illusion, in order to serve others out of compassion.
For Sardello, prayer, service, and joy comprise what he calls “the spiritual alchemy of the heart,” which liberates the one to invest in the other within a radiance of divine love (2006, 88). Silence is a mystical and mysterious third entity that one might cultivate to deepen one’s presence and to promote images of unselfishness for others as exampla. My own sense is that Silence, this one word with multiple experiences appended to it, could be the seed of an entire therapy—a therapy of Silence and slow time (1959, 207).
Dalai Lama. 1994. A Flash of Lightening in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattava's Way of Life. Trans. The Padmakara Translation Group. New York: Shambala Dragon Editions.
Jung, C.G. 1954. "Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious," Collected Works 9/1, ¶80. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Keats, John. 1959. Selected Poems and Letters by John Keats. Ed. Douglas Bush. New York: Riverside Editions.
Picard, Max. 1988. The World of Silence. Washington, DC: Gateway.
Sardello, Robert. 2006. Silence. Benson, NC: Goldstone Press.
Dennis Patrick Slattery, “The Power of Silence.” Traditionally Silence has been understood as the absence of noise, or equated with quiet. Robert Sardello, therapist, spiritual director, poet of the soul, sees such designations actually suffocating Silence. His study, with Cheryl Sanders-Sardello, reimagined Silence from the perspectives of Depth Psychology, religious spiritual traditions, therapy, as well as phenomenology. His work uncovers the complex, repetitive, spiraling, healing powers of Silence, its essential place as a third element in human relaations and a productive force that opens one out to the potentially creative aspect of one’s own being. Death forces, by contrast, in the form of consumer cultures, prepackage life and experience to be consumed, not lived creatively. Sardello’s book has far-reaching implications for therapy, education, politics, to name a few.
Silence, Joy, Love, Spiritual, Consumer Culture, Death Forces, Alchemy of the Heart, Wisdom, Healing.