Listening to Sacred Stillness: Peeling One Layer at a Time

Listening to Sacred Stillness: Peeling One Layer at a Time January 21, 2020

Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”                    Carl Sandburg

Peeling One Layer at a Time

We sit, listening to sacred stillness, sometime with other people and sometimes on our own.

People describe what happens when we listen to sacred stillness in different ways. Some of us talk about the calm and peace we find in stillness. We know people who tell us about the power stillness has in their lives.

Some people talk about the rest they find while listening to sacred stillness.

Other people, though, find more to struggle with in the stillness.

We may experience difficulty paying attention to stillness without falling asleep. Some of us find listening to stillness particularly irritates our nerves.

I know people who have never spent any time being still and do not know how to do it.

Other people find stillness challenging because it can be painful. They do not experience rest or peace in sacred stillness. For them, listening to stillness can feel more like having surgery than taking a nap.

Listening to sacred stillness is not a passive relationship. We commit ourselves to being open to the presence and action of spiritual life in us and around us. Some of that presence and that action is spiritual life removing layers of us which need to go.

I believe spiritual life is as loving and gentle with us as possible, but not does not necessarily feel that way. We discover our lives one layer at a time. Sometimes it brings tears to our eyes.

We practice listening to sacred stillness and can feel ourselves being exposed to the elements. Each time we listen is a step toward spiritual life and each layer takes us closer to our core.

Exploring One Layer at a Time

A contemplative practice of listening to sacred stillness is an opportunity to release our control. We find ourselves feeling restored as we exhale our need to hold a tight grip on our lives. Beginning a listening practice can feel like we are finally letting go.

It is true we can release our anxiety and begin to make friends with our fears. The time we spend early in our practice can focus on learning technique and developing a consistent practice.

When we begin to become more comfortable with a contemplative practice we start to notice things.

We may not experience them while we are sitting and listening to stillness. It can happen later, when we are rushing to make the other pieces of our busy schedules fit together.

We have clearly defined spaces in our days for our practice. It can grow outside the boundaries we have set for it.

Some of us will see new ways we could become stronger listeners. We may recognize how we are not as patient as we would like to be. Some people who develop a contemplative practice begin to look at what they believe, and how they believe it, in new ways.

Slowly an outer layer of how we understand spiritual life will begin to be peeled away. We peel off one layer and expose a new, tender layer underneath it.

It may feel to us we are just beginning to explore the outer layer of our lives in a small way. Other people may experience us in more dramatic ways.

Each of us is discovering and exploring the layers of our lives in our contemplative practices. We begin to experience who we are in new ways and share ourselves with other people.

Peeling One Layer After Another

The layers of our lives each have their own distinct flavors. We experience some layers as particularly sweet while others are more pungent. Sometimes we can taste tears which are several layers deep.

Some of us want to hold onto old layers and not allow the layers beneath them to be exposed.

A contemplative practice of listening to sacred stillness helps us not get stuck in any one layer.

We are not filled with regret or painful memories about layers we have already peeled. The layers still to come will not fill us with fear or fantasies. We are paying attention to the layer we are peeling off in this present moment.

Each layer we peel has the potential to reveal something amazing.

One of the things I appreciate about onions is how many different ways we can enjoy them. Onions are delicious in eggs and in pasta sauces. They are great on burgers or in onion soup, in onion dip or deep fried on their own. Onions are good at enhancing and bringing out the best in the other food around them.

As we peel off one layer at a time the flavor and aroma of the onions grows more intense.

When One Layer is Too Much

Sometimes one layer seems to be more than we can handle. One of our layers may be particularly painful for us or bring up memories difficult for us to face. We may be tired of peeling away one layer at a time and not know whether we can do another.

Our practice gives our intentional consent to how spiritual life is living and working within us. We begin to recognize we are not conscious of all the ways spiritual life is at work in us. A contemplative practice of sitting and listening to sacred stillness allows us not to get in the way.

We are not trying to resist what spiritual life is doing within us or around us or through us. Sometimes things are happening at one layer which seem to contradict what we are doing on another layer.

It is not our responsibility to manage or control everything which is happening within us.

We peel off one layer after another and discover new insights within ourselves.

When will we start to peel off one layer today?

How will we continue peeling off one layer at a time this week?

[image by feesta]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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