I was so envious this past weekend because a few women I know went on a silent retreat. To some, a weekend of silence might sound terrifying. But to me, it would be a welcome respite from the noise of modern life. Seriously. I can’t think of anything I appreciate more than silence. It’s so… undemanding. And warm. And calming.
Last week I #tbt’d a post about meditation. So clearly I’m craving more time to retreat into silence. It’s true that the inner world can be noisy too, when the mind churns and spins. But the more silence I am able to call into my life, the quieter the chatter in my mind becomes.
I went on my first silent retreat about 15 years ago, taking three days at a retreat centre on Lake Erie in the middle of the week. Other than the nuns and the kitchen staff, I was the only resident and I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot. They respected my desire for silence and allowed me to wander the beautiful grounds without having to interact with anyone.
For me, this is part of the restorative power of silence — not having to communicate with people. It’s not that I hate people, or even communicating. But as an introvert I get restored most when I withdraw into my own world and don’t have to interact. Silence sort of takes that to the next level because by definition, for those of us who are most used to speaking as our main means of communicating with others, being in silence interrupts that default switch.
I’ve since learned that I don’t need to go on a formal retreat to be in silence. Renald and I are really good at discerning when we need silence. Throughout our relationship, we’ve had many an occasion when one or the other of us has declared a silent morning, afternoon, or day. It provides time for meditation, inward reflection, emptying the clutter out of the mind, regrouping, and above all, taking a break from having to interact.
But silence need not be a big declaration either. Last weekend when I was running along the tree-lined, snow-covered lane in Haliburton, I paused to take in the silence. Whereas before I could hear the sound of my feet and my breath, when I stopped everything went quiet. When that happens, I immediately feel a sense of peace. When quiet stillness descends, I experience it as a profound moment. And that is the kind of thing I can do any time really — at my desk, at a traffic light in the car, in the woods, on the beach, on the sailboat.
Whether for ten seconds, ten minutes, an hour, or an entire morning, afternoon, day or days, an encounter with silence always restores me.
Maybe that’s why, ever since I was a young child, I’ve loved the library — it used to be a completely silent space. I have spent hours of my life in libraries, hiding out in carrels amidst the stacks, in silence among others who also remained silent (back in the days where you couldn’t bring lidded drinks in either, so you couldn’t even hear the sound of someone sipping on a latte). Again, I experience it as permission to retreat into myself with no obligation to interact, and that always regenerates my energy stores.
What is your relationship to silence?