Quiet Prayer Taught Me to Face Tinnitus
At the suggestion of good spiritual directors, I’ve been practicing quiet prayer for several years. What I love most about it is just being with the Lord in his silence. As many others have testified, one experiences in contemplative prayer the extraordinary, presence-filled quiet of profound peace. When someone else in Adoration turns a page of a book, the sound utterly startles you. That kind of silence.
When I was recently diagnosed with pulsatile tinnitus, then, one of my first thoughts were: ”What will Adoration be like? Will tinnitus change things? Especially pulsatile tinnitus?”
I have the variety that pulses with my heartbeat, so I hear that in conjunction with the high-pitched, constant ringing.
The medical system consoled me a little. Tests revealed that there was no hearing loss, no aneurysm (it’s not a tumor!), and no latent killer allergy. The MRI, MRA, and MRV showed nothing remarkable.
My ENT shrugged. “We just don’t know,” he said. “All I can tell you is it’s not life-threatening. See you next year.”
So I began to live with it. Turns out, not surprisingly, that many millions do the same. The online community of tinnitus sufferers has a lot to say about daily life with the constant ringing. From what I can judge, I have a fairly typical case.
In terms of prayer, I was hoping the tinnitus would be nothing more than another distraction. That’s one of the first steps in quiet prayer: learning how to deal with diverting thoughts and the like. From Evagrius to Jacques Phillippe, spiritual masters tell us that though we will never fully win the war against distractions in quiet prayer, we can learn how to let them pass. With good habits, we can even learn to profit from them.
I’ve certainly lost my fair share of battles with distractions over the years. I seemed to waste entire prayer times because of my self-indulgent imagination, nervousness, self-consciousness, and the like. But, as with any other discipline, you learn skills, and you hone them through frequent practice. Daily, if possible. Over the years, the Lord has used my failures to guide me to better fidelity in prayer.
So, after the diagnosis, I continued to practice quiet prayer, trusting in the Lord’s guiding hand. He had led me through distractions this far; he wasn’t about to let me down now. I went to Adoration when I could, and I accepted that there would not be the total silence I was accustomed to.
That was a few months ago. I haven’t really thought much about the tinnitus since. Yes, it’s always there, but so are distractions in prayer, which I have somewhat learned how to handle over the years through the steady practice of being with him.
Am I simply “tuning out” the tinnitus? If there’s enough ambient noise in the room, there is a blocking effect, yes. But Adoration is quiet. And if you tune something out, you’re more frustrated when it comes back.
My approach to the tinnitus is the same as the lessons I learned in quiet prayer: accept it, “look over its shoulder” as Fr. Martin Laird might advise, and keep the eye of the heart on Christ.
Have I merely gotten “used to it”? No – and I know that for a fact for one simple reason: I don’t consider tinnitus a gift or a blessing. My tinnitus is a privation, a physical evil, a broken part of me, and I want God to heal it. Every day I will ask him to heal it, simply out of what the great Venerable Bruno Lanteri calls “holy obstinacy.”
I am confident that Lord will heal my tinnitus, even if he waits until I receive, I hope, my resurrected body. Until then, I will thank him for making good out of evil, and for bringing me to an ever-greater love of him through my not-as-quiet prayer.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Photo: Flickr, jpellgen (@1179_jp).