The Zoo Fence
a commentary on the spiritual life

The Rule of Silenceô

The Silence Rule of Monks Contemplative

The Purpose of this Rule is not to make our lives easier, more pleasant, or more fun. It is to enhance, empower, and embrace our commitment to our spiritual path and all that it means. It is to discipline us. We acknowledge that this Rule will be, even already is, a nuisance, even a discomfort. We donít care. Each of us recognizes that, over time, we inevitably will jointly and individually whine about this Rule, but we acknowledge that we do not care about our whining.

This Rule is not because we have lost our voices.

This Rule is not punishment for one or both of us.

This Rule is part and parcel of our joint, shared, beloved Sadhana.

(Parenthetically … we have each observed that when we are apart and communicating by email or cell phone texting, we are consistently polite and thoughtful. We think that may be in part because writing takes more time and concentration than speaking, so we are more aware of what we are saying or writing. Thus, we both agree it is too easy when speaking aloud just to allow words to pour out of our mouths before the heart has had a chance to censor them. So, we agree that a principal reason for this Rule of Silence is to get our minds used to always asking our hearts “Is it okay if I say this?”)

The Rules

When Silence is imposed, we are silent. That’s it.

Well, that’s not quite it.

The overriding rule of the Rule of Silence is this: At all times, we both agree always to consider carefully before we open our mouths to speak, conscious of Saint Benedict’s use of the Latin word taciturnitas: the human quality of being quiet, which includes control, restraint, reserve, reticence, and yes, silence.

In other words, we agree to ask ourselves questions like these before we speak: Is what I am about to say necessary? Is there a more polite way to say it? A quieter way? A more considerate way? A more informative way that avoids, in effect, my expecting the other to think for me, to figure out what I mean, to fill in my blanks? Am I using pronouns like “this” or “that,” and expecting the other to figure out what they refer to? Am I speaking because I am bored, and looking to be distracted or entertained? And if so, why am I not being honest, and not saying precisely that?

Those questions, and questions like those, reflect our commitment to the spiritual process. And so they are appropriate and necessary.

The Rules Governing Absolute Silence

Silence is imposed when one of us suggests it, and the other agrees.

Likewise, once imposed, Silence remains in place until we both agree to lift it.

Either one of us may call for imposition of Silence at any time. No explanation is necessary. The call for imposition shall be made politely and wisely. Under no circumstances shall Silence be imposed until we both agree that it should be imposed. Never shall Silence be imposed as punishment or retribution or anything of the kind.

Silence is not a tactic. Silence is an aspect of our commitment as seekers. As such, it is sacred.

And These Others

We may talk freely to the cat.

We may talk freely on the telephone when we have properly considered the call, incoming or outgoing, to be necessary.

We may talk freely to other people, like guests, neighbors, postal carriers, delivery drivers.

We may ask each other questions or make comments that are routine, short to express, and short to answer (by short is meant no more than, say, ten words). Like: Have you seen the cat? I am taking a walk. I am driving into town. I am cooking beef bourguignon, want some?

Any question, response, statement, or comment longer than, say, ten words must be written, not spoken. Obviously, nothing on this page applies to emergency or extraordinary circumstances, like “Help!”

If for some reason, a question, response, statement, or comment must be longer than ten words, but must be spoken and not written, we are to introduce it by asking, “May I speak?” And we must respect the answer, whatever it is. No frowning, no eye rolling, no grimacing. That said, whatever the answer, it shall be delivered politely.

Whatever the circumstances, personal anger (that is, anger by one of us at the other) must be expressed in writing. No spontaneous shouting is permitted. No exceptions.

The fundamental bedrock underlying all of this is, we are committed spiritual seekers. In that context, the question “Is self-discipline important?” answers itself.

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Updated November 5, 2022

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