Sunday, August 03, 2008

Silence


Michelle has written one of the best pieces I've ever read about a silent retreat, here, and has reminded me of some of my own experience.

When I was on retreat at Guelph last summer, the 90-plus degree temperatures every day made the pool a most welcome respite. I think that I went swimming every afternoon right before dinner, and a couple of times after dinner as well. At first I wondered: would people actually swim in silence? I needn't have asked. There were always five or ten people at the pool, and many nodded and smiled, but no one said a word.

Early in the week, I sprained my toe as I stumbled over a deck chair. The pain was excruciating, the kind the makes you feel momentarily as if you are going to vomit. Normally under such circumstances, such an encounter would be followed by a string of loud and angry expletives on my part, but I managed to be unusually restrained in the context of the swimming silence. I sat on the edge of the pool for awhile, hoping that the icy water would reduce the inevitable swelling and bruising, and limped back to the house. My labyrinth prayer walk after dinner was an exceedingly slow one. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I went down to the kitchen to fill a washcloth with ice and to dig around in the first aid cupboard for something with which to tape my throbbing toe.

As Michelle so eloquently notes, in the silence you make less of your needs, less of yourself. You discover how little of yourself you need to impose -- on the space, on others, on the silence itself. The normal chatter and rueful laughter that accompany minor klutziness -- unnecessary. The need for attention -- none, when others have considerately provided for your needs so that you can quietly take care of yourself. The will to overcome? It's up to you. You can live with the pain and the limp and walk the trails and labyrinth, and swim in the pool, and visit the barns and gardens and river -- or not. In the gentleness of the silence, your decisions are your own.

The company you keep is entirely with Someone Else.

5 comments:

Diane said...

you make it sound so fruitful. :)

I did a silent retreat once long ago, I don't know if it oculd make it more than two days, but I sure did journal a lot!

mompriest said...

I've often wanted to do the long Ignatian (30? 40? days)...retreat. I do have a lot of time these days for silence. Long days and nights when no one is home but me and the dogs. I like it a lot. But I highly doubt I would have been able to keep the silence if I stubbed my toe - the yelp comes out so fast and sudden - its a very primal thing in me...but I like your interpretation of the silence...

Gannet Girl said...

Mompriest, I have a fervent hope that between seminary and first call a 30-day retreat is lying in wait for me.

RevDrKate said...

Loved this! And Michelle's post. It reminded me of the yurt time last year. Now that I live alone, I have a lot more silence at home, but there is still something about "going away on retreat" that is qualitatively different and I remninded that it would maybe be a good thing to do that soon.

Stratoz said...

I sometimes wonder too much sbout how strange it would be to leave a 30 day retreat, however, it is life in general that keeps it from happening.