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Posts Tagged ‘silence’

Fleeing the cage of words

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, culture, education, journalism, life, work on February 2, 2014 at 4:48 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever just stopped talking?

Not the usual way — pausing for a minute to draw breath or sip your drink or check your texts.

But decided, for a while, not to speak at all.

I did so in the summer of 2011, a few months before I married Jose, a man who is devoutly Buddhist and who decided, as a birthday gift, to whisk me off to an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat. (Yes, really.)

The only time speech was allowed was in our teaching sessions, or private meetings with the staff, to ask questions.

Golden Buddha Statue of Gold Buddhism Religion

Golden Buddha Statue of Gold Buddhism Religion (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Here’s my Marie Claire story about how it changed my life, and our relationship, and here’s one of my five blog posts, all from July 2011, about how great it felt to be quiet for a while.

We communicated mostly through Post-It notes and gestures, occasionally whispering in our room.

For the first few days, it felt like an impossible burden and every morning’s meditation revealed another empty chair or cushion left by those who had decided to flee.

Then it felt massively liberating.

To not be social.

To not make chit-chat.

To not fill the air with chatter so as to sound witty and smart and cool and employable and likeable.

To just…be silent.

To just…be.

When we returned to the noise and clamor of “normal”life — the blaring TVs in every bar, the ping of someone’s phone or an elevator or a doorbell, the honking of cars, the yammer of people shouting into their cellphones — we were shell-shocked by it all.

I miss that silence, and I really miss the powerful experience of community we had there, with 75 people of all ages from all over the world who had chosen to eschew words for a week.

In December, I started a weekly class in choreography, modern dance, a new adventure for me. There’s only one other student, a woman 13 years my junior. In a small studio, we spend 90 minutes moving, writing about movement and creating “insta-dances” which we perform and listen to feedback about.

It’s all a bit terrifying for someone whose audience — here and in my paid writing work — typically remains safely distant, invisible and mostly ignores what I produce. To look someone in the eye, and to see yourself in the mirror, and to express oneself without words, using only corporeal language are all deeply disorienting.

Not a bad thing. But a very new thing.

Deutsch: Modern Dance Company "Flatback a...

Deutsch: Modern Dance Company “Flatback and cry e.V.” Produktion: “patchwork on stage”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your fingers, wrists, toes, elbows…all have something to say, I’ve discovered. The subtlety of a flick, a wiggle, a pause, a hop. It’s a wholly new way to express ideas and emotions without the tedium of diction.

It’s another way to tell a story, wordlessly. I’ve been surprised and grateful that the other dancer — who is thin, lithe and performs a lot — calls me graceful and expressive. I didn’t expect that at all. As someone whose body is aging and needs to shed 30+ pounds, I usually just see it as a tiresome battleground, not a source of pride and pleasure, sorry to say.

It’s also a little terrifying to have all that freedom, as writing journalism always means writing to a specific length, style and audience, like a tailor making a gray wool pinstriped suit in a 42tall. It’s always something made-to-order, rarely a pure expression of my own ideas and creativity.

It’s interesting indeed to open the cage of words and flutter into the air beyond.

What sets your hair on fire?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, parenting, urban life, US on June 27, 2013 at 12:28 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Leaf Blower Vac

Leaf Blower Vac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flipped my script the other day.

Totally lost it.

My temper, that is.

My husband is a Buddhist, so I’m very aware of all the mature, adult arguments for staying calm, breathing deeply, counting to ten before reacting, (or to 100), that we are all in control (hah) of our emotions and can always choose another reaction beyond anger.

Whatever.

It was a combination, with the usual final straw: endless noise of garbage trucks, leaf blowers and children shrieking plus a delayed assignment I feared might head south, (and with it my budgeted income).

After doing an eight-day silent retreat two years ago, I returned to normal life with a much deeper appreciation of – and deep hunger for — silence. Silence unbroken by, (as I write this, another fucking jet has just screeched over my head, thanks to changed airport traffic patterns since we bought this place), endless, endless, endless noise.

I wait all year, desperate to flee our small apartment, to enjoy the additional 60 square feet of our top-floor balcony, at the treetops, where I work, read, nap. Relax. In New York, we get summer from May to September, at best, and I’m eager to enjoy being outdoors, finally, day and night.

After the umpteenth scream from the kids playing below, (shared space we all pay for), 100 feet below my balcony, whose parents were both deafened and stupid, I called the management company for our co-op apartment building to complain.

When the manager there called me rude and hung up on me, I thought my head would explode.

Only in New York has anyone ever dared to tell me “You’re rude” when I’ve lodged a complaint. Whether I am, (and it’s entirely possible by the time I call, completely fed up), or not, is not the issue.

If you’ve chosen — and I did 2.5 years as a retail associate — to serve others for a living, part of your job is to resolve problems. Politely. You don’t call someone names because you don’t like what they’re telling you.

I can’t stand being interrupted, not listened to when there is a legitimate problem — and being name-called on top of it.

The results are not pretty. Not pretty at all.

I have a temper.

Which any of you regulars here already know!

In our family, anger was too often the primary language, the go-to choice. Instead of actually explaining that something we’d just heard — or acknowledged we’d said — was hurtful, we’d just hop the express train to full-on hostilities. I can still quote verbatim, decades later, some of the  phrases family members tossed my way.

It creates an opposite-but-equal reaction, then as now.

Fuck you!

No, fuck you.

I know my temper, and my very quick rise to rage on occasion, is both a professional and personal liability.

But people who didn’t grow up in the toxic stew of anger have no idea. Emotional armor becomes normal, and a vicious retort your quickest and most reliable/legal self-defense.

I could meditate for another fucking century  — and being disrespected would still make me crazy.

Selfishness — screaming brats in a public space — drives me crazy. The laziness of not disciplining said brats, by their parents or their kids’ friends’ parents, drives me crazy.

A lack of accountability drives me crazy.

We ate out recently in an indie restaurant recently that had done something (blessedly!) radical — posted prominent signs saying “Your children are welcome. We expect them to behave in a manner that allows all our guests to enjoy their meals” (or some variation of that.)

We plan to be return soon.

Here’s a great post by Dara Clear about his anger:

The bottom line is you don’t want fights and conflicts to choose you. It’s a much stronger position to be in when you are in control of your entry point into the fray. But how do we encourage that control when our anger is screaming war cries in our ear, urging us fearlessly into battle? As the cliche has it, let cool heads prevail. When you are under attack are you willing to bypass your ego and consider a non-violent response? Equally, can you still feel empowered if you haven’t raised fist or voice in anger? I think the idea of self-empowerment is at the root of the expression of anger and I would argue that there are people who love their angry selves because it makes them feel so empowered. But we need to get beneath the anger to work out what’s really going on.

This essay, from The Rumpus, is one of the very few I’ve ever read by a woman admitting what rage does for her, that rage is her:

For years, I would say that my father gifted me with rage. This may sound like “I tripped into the door again” dressed up in riot grrl bravado. But I am never sugar and spice and everything nice. I am piss and vinegar and what the fuck do you think you’re looking at?

When a friend needs to get stuff out of her asshole ex’s apartment, she calls me. When a landlord suggests that, instead of asking him to expend “money and energy” on fixing my toilet, I simply turn off the water pressure when I’m not using it, I photograph every code violation (however minor) and call the board of housing. I bankrupt him. When the resident creep in my building mails me a letter saying that he’d like to be my “friend” (quotation marks his), I don’t just knock on his door, I throw my shoulder against it. I tell him it doesn’t scare me that he knows where I live. I know where he lives, too. He doesn’t so much as look at me again.

***

Anger is an arrow: a sharp point with a clear path. Once it has struck, there’s a victor. A victim. My mother’s arsenal is stocked with fluttering laughs, “Oh honey” and “please, don’t.” Just be quiet, she says. He’s had a bad day. Don’t bother him. Don’t bang the cabinet.

What makes you totally lose your shit?

In search of silence

In beauty, behavior, Health, life, nature, travel, urban life on May 7, 2013 at 12:41 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever visited a place so quiet you could hear yourself digest?

For me, it was a ranch in southern New Mexico, land owned by friends of ours, land so wild we ended up confined to quarters because a mountain lion was on the prowl nearby.

We’re now in a spot almost as quiet, the “northern neck” of Virginia, about two hours’ drive southeast of Washington, D.C., a city where the sound of airplanes seems almost constant.

I sat on the dock in the sunshine here and heard only gulls squawking, a dog barking, a distant lawn-mower and wind in the trees.

Heaven!

English: SHO "Little Wonder" leaf bl...

English: SHO “Little Wonder” leaf blower in action, Washington, D.C., USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a town 25 miles north of New York City where two specific, unwanted and frequent sounds drive me mad — the leaf-blowers and the constant buzz and roar of helicopters and airplanes taking off from a nearby airport. They’re constant, the routes changed since I bought our place, making our top-floor balcony less restful than it once was.

I’ve lived in much noisier places — downtown Toronto, (constant sirens from a nearby fire-hall), the edge of Paris (right on the peripherique, ring road, constant traffic) and Montreal (snow-plows in winter.) Then I moved to small-town New Hampshire and enjoyed the change from non-stop noise.

My appreciation for silence really blossomed after an eight-day silent retreat that Jose and I took two summers ago. Like everyone there, some 75 people of all ages from around the world, we were forbidden from speaking, and only occasionally whispered a bit in our room. Mostly we wrote on Post-It notes to one another and shut our traps.

It was a very powerful way to realize how exhausting it is to be chatty and charming and social, (even civil), with the many people we typically encounter every day in normal life. Here’s my post about the sounds I heard there when everything else was still.

The retreat also showed me how pleasant it is to remain silent while surrounded by others equally committed to a break from wasted words. Try it for a day and you quickly realize how much we speak, yet how little we really say, (some of us), that we truly feel or need to communicate from the depths of our heart.

Here’s a story I wrote about that experience that ran in Marie Claire.

Here’s a brief, recent lovely post from Beijing – with photos — by an American copy editor living there, describing his search for peace in that crowded and burgeoning city.

What’s the quietest place you have ever visited?

Did you enjoy it?

If I were Queen…

In behavior, children, cities, culture, design, domestic life, education, entertainment, family, food, life, parenting, urban life on January 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm
The Sceptre, Orb and Imperial Crown of Austria...

The Sceptre, Orb and Imperial Crown of Austria in the Schatzkammer, Vienna (Photo credit: David Jones)

Oh, the possibilities!

As I get older and crankier, (OK, even crankier), I have a growing desire to enact sweeping changes.

Because: 1) I’m right; 2) you’re wrong; 3) if you disagree with me, I can have you drawn and quartered.

Ooops, sorry. Not queen just yet!

But in the deluded if pleasantly optimistic fantasy that I will soon awaken to the news that I am, in fact, in possession of: 1) ermine robes; 2) an orb and sceptre; 3) a big shiny crown; 4) power; 5) a throne…Look out.

I would:

Make every single person of able body work retail for a month, during the holiday season. You might be bagging groceries, or using one of those nifty folding boards to make a pile of T-shirts all tidy or stocking shelves. But you will definitely be exposed to the rudeness, demands, in(s) anity, germs, badly-behaved children, dumb questions and finger-snapping of shoppers. (If lucky, you will also have amazing moments of connection with some very cool people.) Only then can you possibly understand why “They’re so slow!” and learn to control your eye-roll and sighing when service fails to meet your needs. That low-paid, physically-grueling, intellectually-deadening job most likely doesn’t meet much of theirs.

Show every child, at age 12, (or earlier), the tools necessary to care for themselves and their home — and teach them to use them. Then make sure they do! Gender-free training, this would include household appliances, clothing and dish detergent, cleaners, polishes, dusters, brooms, mops, toilet bowl scrubbers, Windex, an iron and ironing board, a needle and thread, shoe polish and brushes and shoe trees, a lint roller.

Toilet bowl swab.

Toilet bowl swab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make sure every child over the age of 12, (or earlier), knows how to shop for groceries, compare prices and make wise choices on their own. When is a melon fresh? What can you make with a mushy banana? Is that cut of meat really cheaper?

Make sure every child over 12, (possibly quite a bit earlier), can read a food label, read and follow a recipe, prepare food safely and cook meals from scratch, using no canned, frozen or processed ingredients. I’ve never owned a microwave; you can make a great meal in about 6 minutes if you have the right ingredients.

Insist that no child be allowed to leave high school, (drop out or not), without passing a mandated financial literacy test. They would fully comprehend how to balance a checkbook (or ensure they are not spending beyond their means without full awareness of that); apply for a loan; understand an APR, a FICO score, a SEP and the value of a low-interest line of credit. The complex language of a vehicle loan, home mortgage or other major commitment — like college debt — would be familiar and accessible to them as they move into the larger world.

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...

Factors contributing to someone’s credit score, for Credit score (United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Repeat this test — like renewing a driver’s license — every two years, as the economy changes and people forget, become distracted and/or their needs change.

Make sure everyone knows the essential importance of prompt, sincere and personal thank-you notes. On paper, with a stamp.

Give every teen leaving home a toolbox with hammer, screwdriver, cordless drill, screws, nails, a level and a tape measure so they they can use them safely to maintain, repair and improve their homes.

Make every designer of every public space — especially the enormous expanses of American grocery stores — much more aware of the 47 million Americans who suffer from arthritis. Many shopping environments completely ignore the needs of those living with chronic pain and impaired mobility.

Create quiet zones in every possible public place, with severe fines and enforcement, to reduce cellphone abuse, earbud leakage and the blaring televisions that now assault us in airport departure lounges to (yes, really) hospital emergency rooms. When I am jacknifed in pain with a 104 degree temperature, television only makes me feel even worse. Surely people can distract themselves quietly and privately in shared space. Research increasingly shows that constant exposure to noise is extremely detrimental to our physical and emotional health.

Make every affluent teen spend a month, alone, in a developing nation — or zone of extreme poverty within their own country. Only by living among people earning pennies per day can someone understand what poverty is really like, what wrenching choices it imposes, what family damage it inflicts and what decisions, personal or political, perpetuate it.

Require every graduating college student, no matter their field of study, to learn a second language. We live in a global society. Insular thinking is dead.

Create many more affordable, attainable ways for lower-income teens and young adults to leave their homes for six to 12 months, working overseas or in a foreign country, to learn firsthand what other nations are doing better, (or worse), with their citizens’ lives. The “news media” is no substitute for firsthand experience. Trans-national friendships and experiences, whether created in high school, college, grad school or through your own initiative, are often life-changing.

Force Big Business to donate a fixed percentage of profit, (tied to CEO bonus and compensation as well), to re-patriating jobs to the United States. Call it a tax, a tariff, whatever. Just do it. Business must not be rewarded solely for raking in billions of corporate profits while stiffing millions of Americans of the chance to earn a living here.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

Require every client hiring a freelance worker to pay a percentage of their fee up front.  The shoemaker does it. Upholsterers do it. Frame shops do it. Making people wait for their payments and stress over meeting their own financial commitments is immoral and obscene. Sweeten it with some form of tax credit, but make it happen. One third of Americans do not have “a job” — they work in this manner.

If you were Queen or King, what would you decree?

Shhhhhhhh!

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature, travel, urban life on November 24, 2012 at 12:49 am
Green silence / Silencio verde

Green silence / Silencio verde (Photo credit: victor_nuno)

Is this a noise you make?

Is this a sound — an imprecation, really — you hear?

Or ignore?

Here’s a fervent plea for public silence:

EVER since I quit hanging out in Baltimore dive bars, the only place where I still regularly find myself in hostile confrontations with my fellow man is Amtrak’s Quiet Car. The Quiet Car, in case you don’t know, is usually the first car in Amtrak’s coach section, right behind business class. Loud talking is forbidden there — any conversations are to be conducted in whispers. Cellphones off; music and movies on headphones only. There are little signs hanging from the ceiling of the aisle that explain this, along with a finger-to-lips icon. The conductor usually makes an announcement explaining the protocol. Nevertheless I often see people who are ignorant of the Quiet Car’s rules take out their cellphones to resume their endless conversation, only to get a polite but stern talking-to from a fellow passenger.

Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.

“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”

“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”

“Yes,” said the woman behind them.

My husband won’t go to the movies anymore, at least not in the evening, and the reason is twofold — other people attending are so rude and noisy, and I spend too much time hissing at them or saying, loudly, “Shut up!”

Which is, yes, very rude of me.

I admit it, I lost it last week.

I was sitting, reading a book and savoring a coffee, enjoying the luxury of leisure in Manhattan before meeting a friend for dinner. A woman right beside me — with lots of room to sit further away — shouted into her cellphone in Portuguese.

“Can you please lower your voice!?” I finally asked, fearing a nasty fight. To my surprise, she moved immediately and came back to apologize, explaining she’d been speaking to her son, via Skype, in Brazil.

Silence is healing, soothing, calming. It lowers our heart rate and speed of respiration. It allows us to focus on our other senses. It offers us a deep, refreshed sleep. It allows us to focus and concentrate our attention, whether on work, reading or a spectacular work of art in a museum or gallery.

In this post, from July 2011, you’ll read all the sounds I became newly aware of on an eight-day silent retreat Jose and I took. I posted several short essays that week, as peeling away the cocoon of noise/music/conversation/traffic laid bare a fresh set of insights and appreciations that were simply unattainable within the noisy distractions of everyday life.

Here’s the essay I wrote about it for Marie Claire magazine — and what I learned about love expressed through action, not mere words.

When Jose and I re-emerged, reluctantly and nervously, into “real life” I immediately noticed how edgy and anxious noise renders me. I eat more, more often and more quickly. My mood alters, and rarely for the better.

I treasure silence, an increasingly rare commodity.

Do you savor silence?

Where, in your daily life, do you find or create it?

Breathing again: 14 ways to calm down and recharge

In behavior, domestic life, life, travel, urban life, women, work on September 30, 2012 at 12:11 am

My shoulders have dropped. I’m breathing deeply.

I’ve really enjoyed a blessed two-week respite, even while still working at the computer almost every day for a few hours.

These things helped:

Long evenings with dear old friends, people who have known me at 15 or 25 or 40, who remember and pay attention. I love having a long history with people, watching them grow (up) as well. A deeply shared history is comforting to me.

Being outdoors in warm fall sunshine. Went for a really long hike this afternoon at Warsaw Caves, (thanks to Ontario reader Susan F. for her blog’s inspiration!) and loved seeing all the mushrooms, sniffing the pine needles and coming home worn out.

Physical activity. I took my first golf lesson, biked, walked, went to the gym.

– A vigorous 90-minute massage. If I were rich, I’d have a massage every week.

Silence. The only sound at my Dad’s house is the haunting and lovely echo of passing trains.

Taking photos.

– Buying a new mini sketchbook and pocket-size watercolor kit. Remembering to make art.

– Being able to walk into town and to the local cafe. Not driving all the time!

– Making a roaring fire and listening to it crackle, then watching the embers glow. We don’t have a fireplace at home.

Reading for pure pleasure, not work or for staying up to date on all my projects.

Unplugging. Staying off the computer (somewhat!), no TV and severely limiting my consumption of radio, newspapers, magazines and the web.

– But…also listening to the radio in French, Radio-Canada. I really miss hearing and speaking French.

Sleeping  up to 11 a night hours as needed. Plus naps!

– Bathing in a deep cast-iron tub by candlelight.

I’ve loved making a thermos of tea and heading back to bed just to read a good novel; (I never read fiction.) I read “All the Pretty Horses”, Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning 1992 book. It’s amazing.

I’ve also treasured the luxury of a lot of space, a house with two floors, two staircases and four bathrooms, as I live and work in 1,000 square feet at home.

But I’ve really valued silence — deep, thick, uninterrupted silence.

I did an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat with my husband in July 2011, (which I blogged about here, if you’re interested in the details), and it changed me for good. I would never have chosen it — he did! — and the enforced silence was instructive indeed. We communicated by Post-Its, hand signals and a few whispers in our room.

Mostly, though, we just shut the hell up. Here’s my story about the retreat from the  November 2011 issue of Marie Claire magazine.

That time away taught me how much energy it takes just to be social. From the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep, most of us are also on a timeline, or many — responding to the needs and schedules of our kids’, our pets’, our partner’s, let alone our own, socially, spiritually, physically and professionally.

So these two weeks, most of it spent quietly alone, have been something of a retreat. (My October is insanely busy, with 10 of 30 nights already booked with social or professional engagements.)

We all need to retreat, rest, relax. Yet it’s radically counter-cultural to just unplug and be alone in silence.

We all spend our days, and our nights, talking/reading/listening/watching/interacting/emailing/tweeting — and wonder why we end up so worn out.

How do you recharge?

Winter Sounds Like This

In beauty, culture, domestic life, life, nature, Weather on January 17, 2012 at 2:21 am
Ice Ledge

Image by Bob.Fornal via Flickr

The radiator hissing

The whirring hum of the floor heater

Howling wind

Bare branches clacking like some spooky typist

Groaning, cracking sheet ice on the river

The crackling, popping and hissing of a fire

Coffee gurgling in the pot

Clink of a teaspoon against bone china

Scraping of skates against fresh ice

Skis swishing through snow

Frozen feet stamping

The muffled thump of mittened hands slapping one another for warmth

The ker-thump! of a snowball hitting its target

The slhllllllump! of a wet pile of snow slithering off a roof

Crunch of feet across salt/gravel

I know that some of you — lucky things! — live in warm places, or places where our North American winter is your summer

What does winter sound like where you live?

The Sounds Of A Silent Retreat

In beauty, culture, life, religion, travel on July 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm
National Register of Historic Places listings ...

The Hudson River, which we overlook...Image via Wikipedia

The humming of fans

Kids’ shouting and laughter from the nearby park

The gurgle/splash of tea/coffee filling a mug

A bullfrog at the pond

Cicadas

Crickets

The scrape of a chair against the floor

Gunfire — target practice across the river at West Point?

Rain

Wind in the trees

A lawnmower

The scrape of the greenhouse door against the slate doorstep

The thunk of a softball landing in my mitt (What is the sound of one glove snapping?)

The beep-beep-beep of a delivery truck

Someone tapping stone

The ribbit-ribbit-ribbit of frogs in the dark

An occasional airplane

The shushing of a riverside waterfall on the opposite bank

The flapping of flip-flops

The sweetie’s breathing in the  bed next to me

The rustle of foliage as a bad bunny eats the garden’s lettuce

The echoing horn of a freight train on the opposite shore

The commuter train thundering up and down the valley

The buzzing of motor boats on the Hudson River below

The whine of mosquitoes

Birdsong

Bees buzzing in the lavender beds

The pealing of the hand bell used to signal prayers, meditations, teachings and meals

The clinking of cutlery against china at mealtime

The whoosh of the dishwasher’s hose

The ringing of the gong to start meditation

The clicking of mala beads

Om Mane Padme Hung and other Buddhist chants

No Meat, Conversation Or Liquor — Will I Survive?

In behavior, blogging, culture, religion on July 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm
Padmasambhava, a picture I, John Hill, took in...

Padmasambhava...Image via Wikipedia

Well, my dears. Off today on a 10-day silent, vegetarian, Buddhist retreat about a 30-minute drive north of my home.

The idea was the sweetie’s, this year’s birthday present.

He’s been a devout Buddhist practicing Dzogchen since he spent six terrifying weeks in 1995 in Bosnia at Christmas, shooting photos for The New York Times.

His mini-altar in the hallway has a small Buddha wrapped in a prayer scarf. A laminated card tucked on the driver side of our ancient Subaru is that of Padmasambhava.

When we started dating, in March 2000, the difference in our faiths — I attend an Episcopal church, albeit not every week — seemed like a potential stumbling block as he is so much  more devout. But it’s not a competition.

And he’s always been really supportive of me, attending my church for more than a decade.

I’ve met and enjoy his lama, Surya Das, author of several books, with a new one out, “Buddha Standard Time.”

He and I even went to see “Mamma Mia” together a few years ago. Namaste on Broadway!

The retreat offers three teachings a day, the only time we’ll be allowed to speak. The food will be vegetarian. There will be no cocktail hour, or wine at dinner, both something we usually enjoy daily at home.

Steak? TV? Three daily newspapers? No, no, no. Ah, the things I cling to.

We’re taking my softball glove and ball, and my bike. I’m taking my camera and watercolors, and plan to write a speech due August 10 in Minneapolis.

I’ll sit in the teachings and meditations and chanting as much as feels comfortable. He and I will share a room, and plan to write notes back and forth. It will be very odd — and difficult — not to talk to him. We typically talk several hours a day and I really enjoy it.

So it’s already a powerful meditation on the loss of that comfort. We may whisper to one another in our room. We’ll see.

I’ve been the butt of jokes for weeks now. “Buddhist,vegetarian, silent — I can’t think of three words less likely to describe you,” said one friend.

If I can get access to the Internet, as yet unknown, I’ll blog during that week. If I can’t, hang tight! I’ll be back here on my regular schedule, posting every other day, starting again on July 31.

Wish me luck!

Silence Now Rarer Than Ever

In behavior, Health on May 2, 2010 at 11:43 am
Le Silence, painted plaster sculpture by Augus...

Image via Wikipedia

As I type this, at 11:30 on a sunny Sunday morning, I hear: my neighbor’s conversation (sigh), fully audible through our adjoining wall; traffic on the bridge a few miles away, birds in the treetops mere feet from our windows, the fridge humming, a few jets high overhead.

I live 25 miles north of New York City and revel in our (relative) silence. It is increasingly rare, as anyone living in or near a city knows. From a recent op-ed in The New York Times:

The scale of our noise problem isn’t in doubt. In recent years rigorous studies on the health consequences of noise have indicated that noise elevates heart rate, blood pressure, vasoconstriction and stress hormone levels, and increases risk for heart attacks. These reports prove that even when we’ve become mentally habituated to noise, the damage it does to our physiologies continues unchecked.

Studies done on sleeping subjects show that signs of stress surge in response to noise like air traffic even when people don’t wake. Moderate noise from white-noise machines, air-conditioners and background television, for example, can still undermine children’s language acquisition. Warnings about playing Walkmans and iPods too loudly have been around for years, but some experts now believe that even at reasonable volumes a direct sound-feed into the ears for hours on end may degrade our hearing.

Yet by focusing on the issue exclusively from a negative perspective, in a world awash with things to worry about, we may just be adding to the public’s sense of self-compassion fatigue. Rather than rant about noise, we need to create a passionate case for silence.

There are few things more healing — to some, unnerving — than deep, rich, unbroken silence. Journalists learn early to use it professionally: when conducting an interview, leave a gap in the conversation and many people, unaccustomed to it, will keep on talking to fill it, often with things they might not otherwise have said.

Those who meditate in Buddhism talk about taming, or trying to, their “monkey mind” — the thoughts and fears that too often bound around our brains like a crazed chimpanzee. For some people, the notion of sitting totally still and calm, eschewing every possible distraction and interruption, is terrifying. You’re….not needed! Not connected! Not productive.

Thank God.

We spent a week this January on an isolated and large (28,000 acres) ranch in New Mexico. The silence was so rich it echoed in my ears. I could hear myself digesting. I felt profoundly restored in a way almost nothing else had ever produced.

Here’s an interesting blog post, from Ireland, on seven benefits of silence.

What is the quietest place you have ever been? What effect did it — or does it now — have on you?

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