For the past 3 falls, I've attended a weekend retreat, part of which is spent in silence. Someone once described the practice as "fasting from words."
Being silent while alone is one thing; being silent among others is quite another. We often eat 3 meals together without speaking a word. It's quite humbling, really. Where do you put your eyes when you're not listening to another person speak? How do you request salt and pepper, for example, without making a scene and pointing?
But it works. Somehow it always works. And when the time comes to break our word fast, we do so gently, softly, our ears exquisitely atuned to the sounds of each others' slippered footsteps, the clink of teacups and saucers, the shooshing of pine needles brushed by the breeze.
Usually, I relish this silence, fold myself into it, and emerge on the other side peaceful and refreshed.
It wasn't so easy this last time. I was antsy, awkward, and unable to surrender to the quiet. My efforts to meditate left me frustrated. Eventually, I removed myself from the group, climbed into bed, and tried to read something that would finally create the right mood. But soon I was swept into the undertow of a long afternoon nap, and to my surprise, when I woke up, I realized that I had dreamt for the first time in months and could even remember it. After the good rest, I found myself able to effortlessly settle into the silence and rejoin the group.
From this experience I learned that I cannot force peace of mind; it finds me instead, and usually when I stop trying so hard. A friend illustrates the folly of too much effort by clenching his fists and jaws while saying, "I'm letting go as hard as I can!" It always makes me laugh.
Before we went our separate ways during this last retreat, we were asked to write a prayer that captured what we wanted to carry with us throughout the year.
This is what I wrote--and what I read each night before I go to sleep:
I will rest.
I will dream.
I will not try to force answers or solutions.
I will lean into the God of my understanding tenderly
and listen to God's whispers
and see God's images
with my heart, mind, body, and soul.
I will trust who God intends me to be.
Recently, I shared the prayer with a friend, who asked me to explain what I meant by "lean into God." It wasn't easy to find the words. But that same day I found at a thrift store a kitschy little figurine that captured the meaning perfectly.
A small childlike figure stands at an angle, supported by a large cupped hand. The expression on her face is one of calm and trust, perhaps even grace.
If I'm very quiet and listen lightly, sometimes I know exactly what she feels. I did today.
Blessings . . .
Image by Himalayan Trails