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Silence is golden but my eyes still see!

travels Feb 08, 2020

I love those words and for me they hold real meaning.

Some years ago when I was coming out of a particularly dark period in my life I bravely decided to join a silent retreat with some monastics from The Plum Village, the home of Tich Nat Hanh, the Vietnamese spiritual leader.

At this point I hadn't been away from my home for longer than a few hours for a few years and so it was a nerve wracking jump going from being isolated and housebound with mental illness and agoraphobia to travelling on a train to spend a week in contemplative silence.

Privately I wondered at the madness of my choice and I also questioned why I was seeking silence yet again, given that silence was all I seemed to experience in my little remote farmhouse all alone on the hill, ten kilometers from the nearest town.

Settling in to the retreat was challenging and initially instead of silence I found that there was none to be found. My idealised image of myself meditating peacefully and being all serene was a little harder to come by than I imagined.

Initially my poor exhausted mind went on a riot, it took off and it appeared that the stiller I attempted to make my body the louder my mind became. Every fear, every negative thought, every uncomfortable feeling I had came to the surface and demanded my attention and I was so disappointed.... Maybe this was a mistake, maybe I'm not ready for this work, maybe silence is for others..... I found it exhausting to sit in silent contemplation for hours and I nearly gave up ......

Until the end of the second day something miraculous began to happen. I can only describe it as how it feels the day after a big storm has gone through. It's quiet, there is a weak sun attempting to warm the air, birds can be heard and there is a unique stillness about. That was what I began to experience that second day.

I felt a stillness begin in me that I had honestly never experienced before. I kept looking within and yep, there it was, a profound sense of peace was being my companion all of a sudden. I was enchanted and could not get enough of it - I thirsted for more and now my silent contemplations with the community began to bring not only a deepening sense of peace but also, a growing joy and knowledge that somehow I wasn't broken. I had been through something terrible, I had had horrific experiences but I was still there, unbroken, well inside.

The next few days at that silent retreat made for a huge turning point in my return to full emotional health. I had truly found myself, maybe actually for the first time in my life and I began to know that from just sitting in silence and waiting for the noise to fade that I would connect to a world that was deeply healing and restorative and I access that at any point by choosing silence.

I parted from the retreat and that beautiful community was absolutely sure that choosing silence from time to time would be my way of staying connected to the real me, the essence of me wherever life took me or whatever it brought me.

There is much proven evidence out there that tells us the emotional and physical benefits of being silent from time to time and to find this you don't necessarily need to head off on a full retreat to achieve these benefits. You can just choose to make some time to take yourself off for a long walk and make that choice to leave behind your phone, your music, your friend and just go and spend some free time in a natural environment. Try it to find a stillness within you and if you are feeling really Zen you might even hug a tree for good measure!

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