fitness · health · meditation

Tracy reflects on the restorative properties of silence…

Image description: SILENCE in blue neon lights over PLEASE in green neon lights, both against a dark brick wall.
Image description: SILENCE in blue neon lights over PLEASE in green neon lights, both against a dark brick wall.

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?

6 thoughts on “Tracy reflects on the restorative properties of silence…

  1. I keep thinking we lead such different lives! When I had small kids I would have loved to declare it “silent morning” and we tried games with that theme, but they never lasted very long. Between kids, dogs, extended family there is not much silence in my life. I used to joke that’s why I found work so peaceful. It’s true though that I like quiet mornings sometimes before other people get up. I also like the silence in church. Sometimes I sit in the car when I get home and catch a moment of silence before going into the house. I love nature but I don’t think of that as silent. I love all the bird, wind, and water noises. I also identify as an introvert but for me close friends and family don’t count against my refueling time.

    1. We do lead different lives and have had different experiences where home life is concerned, that’s for sure. But we both steal silence when we can — that’s similar. As for friends and family counting against refuelling time — it depends. There mere presence doesn’t. But having to interact and meet expectations can be extremely draining for me.

  2. I love silence. Or at least no one talking to me. Background noise is ok.
    I teach a yin class tonight. I normally put on some sort of instrumental music..I consider that white noise background silence.
    It restores me.

  3. I love silence! When my son goes back to his Dad for the week, and I can lock the front door, turn off my mobile, and not speak for the whole day, I am in HEAVEN. Classic Introvert behaviour, although I can be Extroverted too. Friends just bought 10 acres out in the forest; silence hangs heavy over their place like a blanket- I can’t wait for them to ask me to house mind it for them haha

  4. As someone who’s been an extrovert all her life, I’ve found in the past year the joy and restorative powers of, if not silence, then quiet. I’m not sure what the difference is– it definitely involves no speaking (me to the world, the world to me), but I also like nature sounds a lot. And inside in winter, I love the hum of the space heater in the background as I work in silence. I really enjoy music, but lately I’ve preferred the quiet more often. One exception though: I’ve done meditation workshops where we were silent all day, including meals. I really missed talking during the meal– the food just didn’t taste as good, and I didn’t enjoy eating nearly as much as I do when I have friends to share it with.

  5. I’m very comfortable with silence. I only like certain of music to relax. I sometimes forget to play it.
    I also don’t have an iPhone yet. 🙂

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