The Trouble with Silence

The trouble with silence is that it’s so hard to find. And because it’s so hard to find, we’re so not used to it. It makes us uncomfortable. So when we’re in a situation that requires silence, we have trouble with it.

I recently participated in a mostly-silent writing retreat. Functional talking only — “pass the salt, please” or “your hair is on fire” — with writing-related talk at lunch and socializing at dinnertime. I totally loved the idea of it but the reality did take some getting used to.

For the first couple of days, it was super-hard to maintain. I caught myself wanting to chat rather than turning inward, especially during my kitchen clean-up shifts. I’m used to chit-chatting in the kitchen, and frankly I needed to be reminded, gently but firmly. I did catch on, but I had to keep catching myself.

So today I’m at this wonderful Scandinavian spa (Le Scandinave), with hot and cold baths, saunas, steam rooms, and signs all over the place requesting silence, even complete silence. Most people respect this, but a few don’t. Is it that they don’t get it? Don’t care? They see all the signs but think they don’t apply to them? Or that they just simply can’t? Whatever the case, they’re walking around talking in normal conversational tones, and it’s driving me crazy.

Noticing rage: yes, homicidal red rage. Wow, just for a bit of talking. Why rage? Ah. It’s about the blatant rudeness, especially when it disturbs my hard-won tranquility. And then I notice the rage subside. More talk, up it comes again, subsides again. Waves of rage, but I ride them, until at last the rage is supplanted by curiosity and then just noticing the reactions I’m having.

The last time this situation arose, several years ago, it literally ruined my day. Now, I’m fine with it. More, I see how the spa is trying to impose a certain kind of experience on everyone, but not everyone is buying into it. And I’m fine with that too.

How did that happen? What has changed?

Me.

This, right here, this ability to ride out strong emotion, this is it: meditation practice in action. I am seeing the direct benefits of meditation practice, of writing practice, of self-compassion practice. Being okay with not being okay, until my emotions shift, and suddenly I’m peaceful inside.

What a gift.

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