January 14, 2013

soaking in the silence


willow trees in the snow
the main entrance
Lake Mahkeenac

first sunrise

snowshoeing through the meadow

proof! me and my snowshoes

a pop of color

my window

and the view out my window
my favorite sign on the grounds
the mountains

A few years ago, an old college friend told me about a book she had just read called
Listening Below the Noise.  I was definitely intrigued, so I picked it up when I was going through a particularly stress-filled time and fell in love with this idea of creating my own silence. The idea that by the simple act of not speaking, I could create a sense of peacefulness was very attractive and felt so revolutionary too. Why hadn't I heard of this idea before? It's brilliant really–we don't need to be in some silent monastery to feel peace and calm (or spend thousand of dollars on some "Eat Pray Love"-style  trip). We can create it for ourselves anywhere, anytime.

Written as a memoir/how-to, the author details how over the course of many years, she has been "practicing silence" by not talking for an entire day each week. And how that has changed both her sense of peace and stillness, but also her relationships and her creative focus. So taking a suggestion from the back of the book, I started small. For a few hours every week, I would not talk. Of course, this sounds much easier than it actually is.  Being silent for even a few hours is harder on your loved one (or your roommate, your family) than it is on you. They want/need to tell you about their day or talk about something they just read, or they need to ask you whether you paid that bill or did you feed the fish? All you can do is listen to them. 

My "silent experiment" didn't last long. I loved the idea of creating my own stillness by not speaking, but as a practical matter, I found it very difficult to sustain (would love to know if any of you have managed to do this on a consistent basis?). Instead, I decided to dedicate a week each year to silence. I was very fortunate to receive a gift that enabled me to spend five days this winter at Kripalu, a yoga and meditation center in the mountains of Massachusetts. The beauty of this is that I get to make up my own rules. For me, "practicing silence" (which is what I hand-wrote on my Kripalu name tag) means disengaging from the external world in a complete way–no email,  no facebook, no telephone, no internet, no talking.

So what do I do all day? I hike, I read,  I do yoga, I listen to music, I sketch, I write, I meditate, I sit by the lake, I take a bath, I brainstorm. I eat all my meals in the silent dining room. I sleep in a room by myself. I am silent.

By doing this, the drudgery of daily existence – paying bills, grocery shopping, figuring out what to wear, cleaning the house, etc. – falls away pretty quickly. And your mind is freed up to engage in deeper thinking–to really sink into yourself and your thoughts, fully immersed in your own world. My silent retreats not only allow me to experience a deep sense of retreat and relaxation, but they have also been the most creative and inspired periods of time for me. It's like the faucet has been turned all the way up.

To many, this sounds terrible - like a punishment in some way, not talking. Eyebrows tend to raise when I tell friends, colleagues, and family what I'm doing over my Christmas holiday.  But actually, what I now know (and what some of you probably already know) is this is one of the most luxurious things you can do for yourself.

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