There are good reasons for a retreat to be silent, and I discovered three of them for myself:
It gives you permission to be solitary.
Although we arrived singly and in clumps, and we did socialize the night before the retreat began, when we were put on silence we dispersed. There didn't seem to be a plan, and we didn't talk about it ahead of time, but it happened.
It gives you a chance to experience just how loud your ego can be.
The first two hours on silence, the voice in my head was deafening. It didn't say anything extraordinary, like I should write it down for future generations. It just narrated. It's like the guy you sit next to on an airplane. Friendly, well-meaning, wanting to be helpful.
"SAY, HOW ABOUT THIS SILENCE, HUH? PRETTY QUIET, ISN'T IT? IS THAT A BIRD? WHAT KIND? I WISH I HAD A BIRD BOOK! I'D LOOK UP THAT BIRD. I WONDER IF THAT PLANT WOULD GROW AT HOME?? YEP, I SURE DO WONDER ABOUT THINGS! I WONDER HOW THE JACUZZI IN MY ROOM WORKS! I WONDER HOW EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING WITH SILENCE! HEY LOOK, I'M MEDITATING! I SURE AM MEDITATING GOOD! RIGHT? HEY, RIGHT? DON'T YOU LOVE THIS SILENCE? ... "
The Voice is no stranger, but I had forgotten how noisy she can get. She did settle down, eventually, and went back to what she's best at, which is deciding how to wear my hair and remembering how to walk to dinner.
|A lovely house for sale. I already licked it.|
It prevents personalities from clogging up the experience.
Silence keeps the words from arising. If they arise in the guy next to me, who cares as long as I don't have to hear them? So, the gregarious are enjoying the event just like the reserved are. I wasted not one moment coming out of the experience by wishing someone would keep his enlightenment to himself. They also did not have to tell me to shut the quack up.
I broke silence twice without realizing it. A dog was crying for me on the other side of a gate. I wanted him, he wanted me, and we talked about the possibilities. A bird caught himself, not once, but twice in the woodstove, and the second time I expressed my incredulity while getting up to free him again.
|Monticello Elementary School|
If you've experienced this kind of intentional silence, I'd love to hear your own discoveries. How did it feel? How was it different from just being alone and not talking? How did it affect your experience of your surroundings?