For those who practice silent worship, whatever branch of Quakerism you belong to, how do you "settle into the silence?"

I ask this question because I notice that my meeting is comprised mostly of people who enjoy silence and thinking for their own sake: scholars, artists, people who work outdoors. And yet "thinking" is not what we are there to do. On the other hand, most of my extended family, my siblings and others, react with horror at the idea. It's the very definition of excruciating boredom to them, an hour of silence. They have no idea what to do with their minds in that seeming emptiness.

I have experienced covered worship, both my own and my meeting. And I've experienced hours when I entertained myself with my own thoughts and failed to worship. Lately I have "resorted" to centering prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to gather us in and dwell in us many times throughout meeting whenever I became aware that I was not in a state of worship.

Sometimes I find the writings of early Friends, the kind of thing that Fox writes in his pastoral letters, powerfully evocative and helpful, but it is also highly mystical and metaphorical. I don't know how to "dig deep." I only know that sometimes I am brought deeper as a gift. And I don't think this command would make sense to most modern Americans. So I'd like to hear from Friends today what you do when you sit down. Can you describe what you have taught your mind to do in order to reach stillness?
Thanks so much,
Rosemary

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Sometimes I settle down and wait. If I can't quiet my mind I say mantras to settle. These mantras are usually the Catholic "Hail Mary", or the Bahai "Is there any remover of difficulties". They work very well for me as breathing exercises that help me calm. Then I wait. If I am truly agitated I might open the bible or, at present I am reading the "Concurrence and Unanimity of The People Called Quakers" which is a series of sermons.
Rosemary, I wait and listen. I don't consciously attempt to do anything at all, since I regard this as a time for God's work in my heart, not a time to carry out a program of my own. I do a lot of reading of a devotional nature outside of MfW, but never during, as I regard that time as an opportunity to encounter the Spirit to which religious writings and scripture refer. If I can be said to do anything, it is only to listen to and observe what arises in the stillness. I am very much drawn to the idea of Friends worship as "expectant waiting on the Lord" as instructed in Psalms 27:14. I know that the holy spirit will do something, but my role is to simply be there to receive the illumination, guidance and instruction provided.

As for times when I may be more restless or caught up in my own thoughts, I practice Jesus' admonition to be "watchful." Matt. 24:42-44 ("Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. ...) ; see also 1 Peter 4:7 ("be serious and watchful in your prayers.") Thoughts are like people, they calm down when you take them seriously and listen to them! If you ignore them and try to push them away, they are likely to only get noisier. In addition, listening brings wisdom by helping us understand and get to the root of our difficulties, which I would say essentially always boils down to a heedlessness of God's presence and power in our living. When we love an enemy, even an "enemy" to our own worship, it ceases to be an enemy.

I want to add that at other times I do read devotionals and the writings of early and present day Friends (et al), pray in a somewhat more "programmatic" fashion, attend Friendly Bible Study, and so on. Your question was about Meeting for Worship, but I wouldn't want my answer to be understood as excluding other activities of a spiritual nature.
There seem to be many things that 'work' some times, but nothing that always works unless I've simply been 'given' the necessary intensely intent intention...

Outside of Meeting, preparing for a possibly imminent arrest has sometimes been quite effective.

If I feel the 'hum' of a group strongly 'in' worship, it pulls me that way...

Sometimes playing with breath in a yogish manner, counting breaths ala the common Zen meditation technique, just getting comfortably upright (not well, my posture shows years of curling up with books, not all of them good!) and detachedly attentive.

I forget what it's called in synagogue services, the time when you're supposed to stand and silently address yourself toward God (spacially, whichever location seems most natural at the time)--Sometimes I can recapture that attitude, in whatever position...

Often, I'm afraid, it comes down to an hour going by & lucky if I haven't fallen asleep a few times... Not suppressing thoughts, not clinging to thoughts, just wishing the Lightning would strike us all awake, wishing I had it to say this morning, reminding myself that "I" as an isolated person see the dust in everyone's eyes but can't take it out on my own, that I've got to wait for guidance on that... and that people just might need to blink it out themselves.
I start Meeting for Worship with 27 repetitions of the Buddhist mantra "om mani padme hum" (a mantra used to develop compassion) as a way of settling my mind. Then, I let thoughts arise and just let them go. I keep my mind open and receptive, which means not clinging to any one thought or story too much. If I get a message, it will return multiple times and the heart-pounding and sensation like I'm going to burst will make it clear that it's a message.
Thanks, Paula. When you say you "wait," what does that mean for you? When random thoughts arise, how do you return to waiting?
Thank you, David. Psalm 27 and its promise have been a big part of my spiritual journey also. I'm very interested in what you say about not treating your thoughts as enemies but watching them, listening to them. Do you consciously ask for help with them as this occurs, or do you "just watch?" If you could say more about that process, it would be very helpful for me.
Thanks, Forrest. Yes, I agree that ultimately we can't get there without help, whatever we do!
Thanks, Tania. A Friend once had a message in my meeting that I think describes what you are saying. She compared watching thoughts in meeting to fishing and she said most of the time it's "catch and release."
I have found that a daily practice of stillness and study is vital. If I skip this to any great degree, it becomes harder to be attentive to the Still Small Voice on First day.

At the beginning of worship, I take several steps to help me center. First I find a position that supports my spine and the rest of my body. Over time, I've found that slumped postures are more conducive to nodding off than to expectant waiting. Slow, intentional breathing helps me to "become still and cool in thy own mind and spirit, from thy own thoughts" (George Fox).

Then I listen.
I don't think I've ever taught my mind to do anythingto reach stillness, or any other state during meeting for worship, nor do I think I'd try to. When I reach stillness, or just about any other time I sit down and try to listen to anything (music, speaker, my own thoughts, etc.), I fall asleep. Seems to be physiological. It seems that when God has something to say to me, he does say it, without my having to use any special technique of preparation. Sometimes I fall asleep for a while, then wake up refreshed and stay awake for the rest of the meeting. Other times I receive what seems to be an urgent message from God (either for just me, or to share), so there's no need to use any technique to focus on it.
I try to take a few(?) minutes to pay attention to my body. With physical issues, I do a "check" on muscles, joints, heart beat, breathing (breath "awareness"helps), etc. I find if I neglect this check then often physical discomfort interferes later, even though there are times that regardless of my best efforts, I seem to struggle with physical awareness most of the time.

I then take a few(?) minutes to pay attention to my mental state. I try to run through any "pressing" issues that are weighing on my mind. I also try to check through how I have dealt with these away from Meeting. Those methods include reading, etc. I try to consciously "hold" those issues in "the Light." This often means becoming aware that I need to recognize the Spirit and its power to strengthen me. Often this process leads me to recalling a recent reading, such as my most recent Parker Palmer's "Hidden Wholeness," or a Biblical passage.

If I maintain my "outside" reading and awareness, as well as a regular attendance, these physical and mental activities take about 20 minutes, although there have been times when due to circumstances they have taken the whole hour or so. I try not to berate myself for those times since I truly believe that my experience has been that this is a form of "praying constantly," that is letting the Spirit/Christ/Light etc. "in on 'my' thinking" while recognition of being done in the Presence. Sometimes I strengthen this Presence by looking at the faces of those in attendance, being aware of their presence in body, mind, and spirit.

I then turn my mind to being "open." Very often a "message" will begin to form based on some passage from Friends writings, Scripture, and, rarely, personal experience. My academic background and intellectual bent leads me to "thinking" as a way of being open. However, I have been led to believe that I have been given a "gift," others have been given gifts in arts, feelings, emotions, etc., etc. and these are gifts of the Spirit which can be turned to in being open to the Spirit. My concern is that my thinking be "led," that is not trying to direct where my mind goes with the message but to let my mind "wander" where it is led. I personally believe that this develops into "messages" that are meant for others. I share the experience of pounding heart, louder breathing,"twitching/quaking/shifting," which have been described by others. This is usually attested to by those sitting next to me. My wife has said she knows when I am "struggling" with a message and can then tell when I am going to stand and speak just before I do.

If I can not "settle" mentally and/or "spiritually," I often repeat the "Lords Prayer" not as a mantra but rather going through phrase by phrase contemplating the various ways of expressing the "content" in various ways, eg. "Our Father who art in heaven" might be thought of as "Our Spiritual Guide" "The One who can be relied upon in Spirit and Truth," or at times memories of my own father, who was my spiritual mentor, guide, etc. Sometimes I don't get past the first phrase without being led onto other openings. Sometimes I get through the whole prayer and even start over. At other times I recall passages from the Bible such as the creation myths with the question "Where are you?" or the Cain and Abel story with the question "Where is your brother?" or the still small voice through the earthquake wind and fire "What are you doing here?"

Usually my "struggling" with a message, especially one which leads to vocal expression, leads to a quiet that is hard to explain, but I am calm and quiet with a seemingly "infinite" variety of thoughts, openness, etc.
Exactly that. I wait. Random thoughts aren't always distracting. I'll just let them flitter through. I guess it's sort of like Herbert's (Dune) litany against fear; I let it pass through me. If it becomes distracting I just go back to mantras.

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