Interior Silence


During my retreat last week, the priest mentioned something which I keep on forgetting: that exterior silence is only a means to interior silence, that in prayer what matters is the latter so that we may be able to hear God. And, truth be told, when I am praying there is always a lot of “noise”: many errant thoughts distract me. When I notice this, I offer them up to God, because as the priest pointed out these distractions reveal “disordered affections” (as St. Ignatius of Loyola would say) - ways that we are disconnected from God.

What I would like to know is how can one reduce the noise when praying. It’s just that most of the times these distractions aren’t even worries; my mind just wanders to the strangest of things. What do you folks do? Perhaps reciting verbal prayers eould help? I’m all ears.


Very often what we struggle most against we can give strength to…rather than to struggle desperately against distractions and interior noise, lay them gently aside with an attitude of perseverance and prayerfully. In the end, I think, interior silence is a gift to which one can only dispose onself in hope and with prayer. In the meantime, the desire to dwell in interior silence and the inability to do so of oneself is a cross that does ask spiritual detachment…or detachment from our even highest spiritual aspirations, for God will always supply what is necessary and profitable to our sanctification of that we can dwell in total confidence and trust.
St. Teresa of Avila said something totally profound (amongst many profound statements indeed) : “Humility, my daughters, it will win The King evertime”. Certainly what we do accept in our journey with an attitude of much humility and lowly grateful resignation very often will be rewarded with great gifts. But to strive to adopt humility for that reason strikes me as entirely mercenary and unworthy of so great a Lord. Over and above that it is to strive for humility for reasons that lack humility!:smiley:

Our spiritual way is full of many paradoxes!!!:thumbsup:

Certainly, however, verbal prayers prayed reflectively can reduce distractions. I think too that it is most unwise to strive for interior silence before we are ready for it and this is why (for one!) a good spiritual director is pure gold. When true interior silence arrives probably one’s mind will not move nor reflect at all no matter how one tries.
“Disordered affections”…mmmm …interesting…however I do think that no matter where one arrives at, to some degree at some time or other we will find our affections disordered. Perhaps at times to a lesser degree at others perhaps to a most annoying and disruptive degree.



I’m not sure if I understand this part. Can you help me understand what Father meant, when he said this?

There are so many outside distractions in our world, today…over which, we have no control. Noises that didn’t exist, even as recently as 20 years ago. Boom boxes, cell phones, traffic, aircraft, etc. For me personally, these things are extremely repellent… and yet, they DO “distract” me from prayer. Does this mean that I have some sort of a subconscious “disordered affection” for these things? :shrug: I’m very confused by this.

One thought that has occurred to me, when I’m distracted by outside noise, while I’m praying. I try to join the suffering this noise causes me… to the suffering of Our dear Lord in His Passion. The people along the Way of the Cross… jeered at Him, and insulted Him. I try to spiritually, help Him carry that burden.

If I’m not able to concentrate on my prayers, due to outside noise… I forge ahead, until my prayers are finished… but I offer the suffering of the noise to Our Lord. Does it sound like I’m doing the right thing?


You’re talking about physical noise. I believe the OP was talking about thoughts or distractions during prayer – more like mental noise.

I like Thomas Keating’s advice for dealing with distracting thoughts. He says to treat them like leaves floating down a river. You notice them – oh, a leaf! – and they continue floating away. You don’t have to reach in and pluck them out.

You can do the same thing with thoughts. “I have that project due at work tomorrow.” The thought pops into your mind, you notice it, and you let it go. “I forgot to buy a Christmas present for the people next door.” You let it go. Even when it’s related to your prayer it’s a distraction – “I’m feeling such a sense of peace right now” – you let it go. Don’t start a whole new train of thoughts – “I’m not going to think about this! I’m going to focus on my prayer” – because then it consumes you. Just release it gently like you might release the string on a balloon and let it float away…like the leaves floating away on the water.


Thank you, very much. Your response helps. I did understand what the OP was talking about, though. For me, the outside noises are sometimes the cause of “interior noise”. Here is a more precise example…

I’m praying in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of our church. Someone stands just outside the door, talking loudly on a cell phone. I continue to pray… but have intermittent thoughts… “I wish that person would stop.”… pray some more. Another thought… “I hate cell phones”. etc., etc.

So… does my inability to concentrate… due to the outside noise… mean that I have a “disordered love” of my own desire for quiet? Or what? I’m still sort of confused here.



I’m the last person on this forum to be giving advice about contemplative prayer, especially since there is more than just interior noise in my spiritual life, but let me just say that if my mind wanders or I begin to get distracted by other thoughts, I catch myself and simply return back. Often I will use an image of Our Lord as the focal point for my meditation, whether it’s the Passion or him as the Gentle Sheperd. My own interior prayer life resembles a conversation, at times – I speak slowly, laying out all the facts, and, at times, I hear the Lord through all the thunderclaps of my mind leading me on. Given I’ve had such success doing this, you would think that I would practice such interior prayer more often, especially during my more volatile moments, but I’m still learning myself.


I think that physical noise can be a problem. The best thing I can suggest is to let it go as much as possible. I agree that someone talking on a cell phone would be annoying. I haven’t had that precise problem, but I have to admit that one of my pet peeves are the people talking before Mass starts…especially when it’s the people directly behind me talking about the details of Aunt Mildred’s gall bladder operation and there’s no way to get away from it. What I’ve found helps is to look for the blessing in the situation – that people are coming together to worship God and that there’s love and friendship among the congregation – and then let it go as much as I can. There have been times when people’s voices have blended into such a song that I almost didn’t want it to end when Mass was starting. (That’s on a good day. On a bad day I still end up feeling cranky about the noise.)


“Ep” and “Sus”… thank you, both. Your responses are helpful. God bless.


Generally speaking, no. According to St. John of the Cross disordered thoughts/desires are willful, voluntary and habitual. All of us will have momentary lapses like you mention from time to time.

Purging disordered desires is the major work of the active night of sense as described by St. John. These thoughts are a major impediment to interior silence and recollection because we choose to dwell on them . . . frequently. Further, these are the type of thoughts that lead us to sin.

Disordered desires/attachments are different from the more spontaneous mental wanderings that just naturally bubble up from our sub-conscious that oftentimes plague our prayer. As another poster mentioned, it’s best to just ignore these type of thoughts and mental images like “leaves floating down a river.” Unlike disordered desires, they can’t really do us much harm unless we give them the attention they don’t deserve. Then our passions will become inflamed, our peace will become unsettled and interior silence/recollection will be shot. At least for that time of prayer.

Hope this helps . . .
Dave :slight_smile:


. . . point of clarification:

Disordered desires/attachments are those things, ideas or mental images that we dwell on for purposes other than what God intends. Again, all of us will have momentary lapses in this regard. The problem is when we willfully, voluntarily and habitually recall these type of thoughts from memory. Then they can be considered disordered or inordinate.

Examples of thoughts that can easily become disordered are endless. From the obvious like impure thoughts, having mental arguements with someone in your mind over percieved slights, worry/anxiety over past or future events to the more subtle like mental pre-occupation over posting on these very forums.

Any and all of these type of thoughts hinder inner silence and recollection because we conciously choose them over God . . . thus the harm. Our recourse is to banish these thoughts from our minds as soon as we recognize that we are indulging them . . . whether we are in prayer or just going about our business. This becomes a very interior form of mortification . . . learning to become “silent to self.”

Hopefully we can see that disordered desires are something entirely different from the distracting and spontaneous thoughts that just seem to pop into our mind. Paraphrasing St. Teresa, just do your best to ignore them as the silly things they are.



When I visited the Trappist monastery in Conyers, I was told to choose a single word such as “God” or “love” and focus on that word. When my mind wanders during centering prayer, return to the word as needed.
As has already been mentioned, do not give an undue amount of attention to intruding thoughts. They are like flies that you simply brush away.
Years before I visited Conyers, I also learned the Jesus prayer as a means of entry into contemplative prayer.


I agree that the “Jesus Prayer” is a wonderful, addition to contemplation and helps keep distractions away. I also used to say it all the time and although I haven’t recently (I’ve started using the “Hail Mary” using the same breathing techniques :confused: ) I can sometimes find myself mentally saying the “Jesus Prayer”, even when I didn’t intend to - an example of The Spirit praying for you as you need, I guess.
Those breathing techniques (as mentioned in the “Philokalia”) help me to avoid distractions, when I think to use them that is.:rolleyes:


Thanks Barb and Dave for your insightful replies. I’ve found them helpful.

I’ve been struggling with this very issue - finding my thoughts wandering in prayer even though I don’t want the wanderings - and then letting the thought go to find I have just a few moments of quiet before the next distracting thought comes along, and I’m dwelling on it until I catch myself doing so again. This is a tiresome thing for me.

Back in June I started going to daily Mass along with spending 30 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament daily, and it has been such a dry, distracted struggle. I often wonder if I’m doing something wrong, or if I just need to continue doing what I’m doing and God will take care of the rest.

There is something about dryness and distractions for months on end that brings to mind that saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. :blush:


Thanks for all the edifying answers!


Sometimes if the mind is particularly disturbing and troublesome, it can be helpful to read a spiritual book or text prayerfully. That is, begin with a prayer … and then read slowly and if something particularly strikes you, pause and ponder about it prayerfully before moving on in the text.

Another method I have used is to have my own little booklet of prayers for various special intentions and to pray these slowly and reflectively.



No, you’re not doing anything wrong and yes just continue doing what you’re doing. He will take care of the rest :slight_smile:

There’s always an ebb and flow to all this: Periods of absence then presence, dryness then consolation, interior lights then darkness, clarity then obscurity. This is how he weans us from any self seeking in prayer . . . to seek Him for His sake alone.

Dave :slight_smile:


There may be times when a particular issue overwhelms prayer.
It will keep coming back again and again if it is something in our lives that we may be needing to face. At these times, the problem itself can become the prayer. “Lord, I can’t get _________out of my mind. How would you have be handle (deal with, respond to, etc) __________?” Prayer is not about running away from life. It is about spending time with God.
Maybe a letter seeking forgiveness needs to be written, for example. The purpose of seeking interior silence is listening to God, of setting aside our own agendas. Sometimes, it is during our silent times of prayer that we hear a call for action, for forgiveness, and acceptance of healing. It is listening in the silence of my heart that I find solutions that we would never find of our own accord.


Thanks Dave. My prayer was starting to feel like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years without a map. When the dryness first came I was actually excited about it since it was a sign of progress. Now being in it for months, it’s not so thrilling. :wink: I guess some impatience and lack of abandonment has crept in (or what was already there is just showing up.)


Don’t give up. As long as you continue with the practice, the consolation will return. Of course it is not the consolation that we seek, but the God of consolation.
The dryness may feel that much more acute when consolation has been experienced in the past. God’s consolation is not something we can recapture. Consolation when it does come is pure gift.


Thanks Deb. Funny I know all this intellectually but it wasn’t until recently that I acknowledged that yes I do have some consolation seeking going on. It’s very subtle - I was very patient and accepting of it at first, but over time began to hope some consolation would return eventually. Just a feeling of I miss it and I hope to have it back.

Just having that twinge of longing is a sign I am not completely resigned to the work God is doing. If I were truly abandoned, I’d be indifferent about consolation or dryness. It’s amazing how subtle our faults and our attachments can be. I wish I knew who said it (it may have been Saint Teresa, one of the Carmelites aboard will know), but someone said it doesn’t matter whether a bird is tethered by a heavy chain or a tiny thread, either way it can’t fly.

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