Silence sometimes freaks me out.
The moments between a hard-hitting hail storm and going outside to assess the damage. The absence of claws against wood floors, until I remember the dog is with the sitter. The agonizing discomfort after I peel away a layer and share.
These (and so many quotidian others) are the silences we are conditioned to fear. And yet, as the saying goes, silence is golden.
So, to calm our nerves, we want horns to stop blaring and hammers to stop jacking. And the birds? They should wait to make their racket until after we've had our coffee!
But in addition to the silence we fear, and the silence we want, there’s also a silence we need.
It’s the “noble” silence of a quiet mind. The silence of no judgement. No expectations. No fear. It's the silence of peace between our ears.
For 2,500 years, it’s been studied and practiced and chased. Yet, in the West, we fight it with all our muster.
Last week I attended my first day-long silent retreat. Eight hours in a room with 15 other humans. No talking, but for the set up and debrief by Cierra, our soft-talking guide.
To pass the time, we alternated sitting, standing and walking meditation. At lunch time, we avoided eye contact and mindfully chewed our food. I probably nodded off a few times throughout the day, but I wasn’t ever bored.
With no clock to check, time was suspended. And yet it flowed.
It sounds excruciating, I know. But it wasn’t.
With no one expecting me to talk or to listen, my mind quieted down. My body relaxed. In sustained silence my other senses seemed more acute. My thoughts came and went. I tried to witness, rather than judge.
Of course the prospect of so much silence had been intimidating. But, as Cierra predicted, by the end of the day we were reluctant to give it up.
According to the meditation teacher Gil Fronsdal, “The mental momentum from a conversation is seldom finished when we stop talking. It can take a while for the thinking mind to quiet down after a conversation ends.”
No wonder we’re all so exhausted. With businesses to build and households to run—relationships to nurture and wrongs to right—we absolutely have to talk.
But talk and talk and talk and talk? Maybe not so much.
What if we soften our body language, or look into someone's eyes, before we puff more noise into the universe?
What if during our conversations we allow more time between our tit and our tat? Our quid and our pro? Our need and our know?
It's also said that a little knowledge goes a long way. But after just one retreat of the silent sort, I've decided to bank on the wisdom of the ages. Comfort with silence just might expand what's possible in our relationships—with others and ourselves.
As scary as long pauses are, moments of stillness in the midst of of speech might lead to greater understanding. And acceptance. And love.
What say you about that?
Not much? That's OK. Take your time. Tell me later.