The Sounds of Silence

The sounds of silence.  From time to time I enjoy being really mindful by intently paying attention to all of the sounds around me. It’s usually when I first wake up, when things are naturally so still. I notice the soft sound of my feet padding on the carpet, and then how they slap a little when they hit the bathroom tile. The turn of the sink faucet. The change in the noise the water makes as it increases from a trickle to a flow.  The slightest pop the cap on the toothpaste makes as I’m taking it off. I especially love the soft tap each item makes when I place it back down on the counter. Usually we are onto the next activity as we mindlessly put the first product away, but in these mornings I wait for that closure. I don’t turn on music or TV on these mornings. I let the symphony of  life entertain me. 

My ear picks up the the snap of an elastic band and a drawer being opened.  As I put out the garbage, I am welcomed to the day by the birds chirping and the bees buzzing. My feet click on the driveway.The garbage pail closes with a thunk.  I hear the wind as it rustles the leaves of the trees above me. As I drive to work, the sliding sound my hand makes as it moves around the steering wheel intrigues me.  The clicks, whirls, creaks, clinks, rattles, gushes, and swishes  of my mundane day, thrill me. I am completely attuned to my sense of hearing and I am in the moment. 

This space I’m in usually lasts an hour or two.  And then it’s time to be social or to work and I can’t be still long enough to isolate sounds. I forget about my game, the tuning of my ear to the slightest noises, and I move on with my day. 

Last night was different.  Without much warning at all, I was thrown into 17 hours of a mandated silence, which was an unexpected part of a workshop I attended. The 70 of us in the workshop were allowed to communicate, but not to talk. The 500 other people on the campus were not in silence. We were being asked to remain silent to allow us to hear, decipher and get clarity about our own thoughts, in order to prepare each of us for contributions we were to make at an ending ceremony. The quieter our lips, the louder our thoughts. 

I was nervous and excited. I was a little bummed at the timing because I was starting to make friends and wanted to get closer through more conversations. Connecting to others is usually my favorite part about any workshop. I was excited to experience observing my world without any pressure to talk. The start of the silence felt a little abrupt to me and I wished I had a few for minutes to confer with my new friends.

I put on a ‘I Am on a Silent Retreat’ sticker and I headed out to survey my surroundings. I felt protected and freed by this badge, knowing that I could walk around and not be expected to make any conversation. The option of chatting was taken away.

The first thing I did was grab a book from my room. I felt like time was luxuriously long and that the silent day would feel endless. The second must-do on the agenda was to order ice cream.  A few hand motions later, I had the best ice cream I can remember. I savored every flavor. Since I was in the mindset of isolating my senses, all I concentrated on was my sense of taste. 

I thought I would read since I couldn’t talk to anyone but the sounds and sights around beckoned to me. In the background to everything I did, there was the live ‘soundtrack’ of the chattering birds.  No sounds were interrupted by my talking or attention to conversation and the loop of chirping was noticeable all day.

It seemed like I was rediscovering my eyesight and hearing, instead of losing my voice. And, at the same time, my whole body felt quieter. I softly and slowly walked around, taking in all of the sounds and sights. I noticed the rhythmic slap of flip flops and the crunch of the mulch underneath them, as people walked along the garden. I heard a distant water rushing sound and discovered a tiny waterfall that I had walked past numerous times but had never noticed. On the beach I felt the sand under my feet go from warm to cool and I noticed the quiet splish the lake made as the goose woke up and took her first tentative morning dip. The slight breeze in my hair and ears sounded like a loud whoosh. 

What I noticed even more than that, was how wonderful it was to share the silence with someone else. A new friend and I traversed the campus easily, only communicating with nods or pointed fingers. We were side by side, yet we were simultaneously in our own heads, as we discovered the beauty of the retreat together. It was almost like we were scuba diving next to one another. We hadn’t had time yet to learn all about each other’s lives, we knew just the peripheral stuff. But we experienced and shared so much together in silence.

At one point, as we were quietly sitting, I got a call from my son. I texted that I was in silence and wondered what was going on. He was dealing with a serious situation, actually, so with a nod of approval from my friend, I quietly called him. After we spoke he assured me that he’d keep me updated and would reach out if he needed me again. Typically, when a crisis is happening, I might reach out to a few people, discuss it at length, and use all of my energy to solve the problem. But this time was different. I really wanted to get the rewards that this retreat would give me so I returned to my silence. Yet I was peaceful no more. My thoughts were screaming at me.

My new friend knew exactly what we should do. She took out her map and pointed to the spot called Sanctuary. Yes! A beautiful and calming meditation area. Neither of us had visited it yet. We climbed up the beautiful stone steps, paying homage to the inspirational symbols as we passed by the pond and waterfall and continued up to our destination. We removed our shoes and entered a very large beautiful, natural, wooden room. The c ceiling reached the sky and a skylight let it in. There were cushions on the floor, a stone mural focal point, and complete silence. We sat down and closed our eyes. I welcomed the opportunity to center myself and try to quiet my mind. After a few minutes I opened my eyes and I noticed a book in front of me that my new friend had silently placed.

It was a book of prayers that our workshop leader, Tosha Silver, wrote. I gratefully started quietly flipping through it, hoping to find something that would help me. And I did. Two sentences that were everything I needed to hear.  “Change me…into One who is freed from the noose of fear and worry. Let me trust that if You want me to do something, You’ll either give me the ability or send the right help.” I read those lines and I felt everything stop and just get completely calm. It literally felt like I had been in a bubble of  worries and pop! the bubble softly disappeared and with it went all of my thoughts.

I realized right then that there was nothing I was actually supposed to or could do about what my son had shared with me. I could truly let it go. If I was needed, I would be reached. Had I not been in silence, I would not have been quiet enough to receive that message and hear that prayer. I would have been too busy talking and talking about it.

I am grateful for that experience of silence. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my new friend who conveyed her warmth to me by just being next to me, by lending a book silently, by giving a smile and a hug.  Instead of getting to know each other’s life stories, we attuned to each other’s emotions first. And, in the silence, each of us communicated and heard exactly what we needed.

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