Reconnecting with silence

Morning coffee

Being fresh off a retreat this past weekend, Sunada shares what it’s like to be in silence, and why it’s a good thing. Even if we don’t go on retreats, she thinks there are many reasons why it’s important to bring more silence into our lives.

A lot of the time we chatter just to fill the air. Not that talking is a bad thing. But sometimes we talk just because we’re uncomfortable with silence. We think of silence as the absence of something. It feels, well… empty. Not normal. But silence can be very rich, if only we give it a chance to speak to us.

Silence can be very rich, if only we give it a chance to speak to us.

This past weekend, I was on a retreat where we spent several hours each day in silence. So the experience is still fresh in my mind.

Early on in a retreat, there’s always a bit of awkwardness since you’re thrown together with people you don’t know. We wonder what to say, how to start a conversation, how to make a good impression. All that inner fretting.

When we learn how to be in silence with others, we find a deeper, more essential way of connecting with another human being.

But when we’re in silence, all that becomes moot. In silence, a lot of that pomp and posturing drops away. We don’t have to grope for something to say. We can simply be with each other, smile and make friendly eye contact. Perhaps offer a helping hand. Nothing more is needed.

And how often do we really do that with another person, on retreat or otherwise? I mean consciously offer our presence without pretense or an agenda? When we learn how to be in silence with others, we find a deeper, more essential way of connecting with another human being. In that unobstructed space, we don’t need words. Actually, words can pull us away from that basic ground of real communication.

Eating with others in silence can be a lovely shared experience… We’re all holding each other with kind awareness, and everything flows smoothly.

On this retreat, we ate breakfasts together in silence. And how often do we engage all our senses when we eat? Do we stop and take in the wonderful smell of a fresh pot of coffee? Hear the mechanical ka-chunk when the toast pops up? See the colors and textures of our breakfast cereal? Feel the creaminess and the chilly temperature of the milk in our mouth? Taste the bursting tang of the raisins when we bite down on them? How often do we slow down and really savor our food?

And eating with others in silence can be a lovely shared experience. What do you think happens if I want the butter at the far end of the table? When we’re all sitting with kind awareness of each other’s presence, it’s not a problem. If I’m holding a piece of toast, and looking toward the butter, somebody always notices and does the right thing. If necessary, there might be a series of taps on a neighbor’s arm and gestures and points. But the butter comes to me. Every time. No words are needed. We’re all holding each other with kind awareness, and everything flows smoothly.

This is all about mindfulness, really. Of ourselves, each other, and our surroundings. It’s also a deep respectfulness – gratitude even – of everything we encounter. Of our food, each other’s presence, everything.

When we stop talking, we get much closer to our experience and begin to glimpse what’s REALLY happening around us. I don’t think we realize how much talking can take us away from life itself. When we spend all our time thinking and talking, we start believing that’s all there is. But what happens is we end up thinking and talking ABOUT our lives, not actually living it. Skimming the surface.

I know most of us have busy lives, full of noisy hustle and bustle. Thinking and talking are obviously necessary for getting around, getting along, and even surviving in this world. But that’s all the more reason why I think it’s so important to reconnect with silence once in a while. Silence helps me drop down into the ground of something much more real. And it creates spaciousness and clarity in my mind so I can go back to that hustly-bustly world feeling fully present and alive, with all of me intact. I can’t imagine life without it.

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Ricky Buchanan
    May 19, 2010 7:32 pm

    I really love it when people are willing to visit me and just *be* here. Not to chat specifically, unless that’s what moves us, but somebody who’ll bring their mending or craft work or even their laptop so they can study and just be here in the same room.

    I have an international houseguest this week and she needs to work (via laptop) most of each day so we both curl up in the living room and do our own thing with the sun coming in the window and the cat moving around according to his cat whims and the sounds of birds outside the window and the rainbows thrown on the wall by the crystals in my window. We chat occasionally, take time out to share lunch or ice cream or a wonderful thought we’ve had, or venture briefly into the garden to explore something, but mostly it’s quiet togetherness.

    It’s not the same mindful awareness of each other that you described, but I think it’s something much more attainable outside a meditation retreat. And I find it to be infinitely less lonely to share a room with a friend who’s doing their own thing while I do my own thing, compared to being alone in my house which is my usual alternative.


    • That sounds lovely, Ricky. I don’t see why that couldn’t be considered mindful awareness of each other. You just happen to be doing two different things, then connecting whenever you feel so inclined. I recall that you are mostly homebound (I remember you from 29 Gifts), so I can see why you’d appreciate having visitors this way. How did your 29 Gifts challenge go, by the way?

      Best wishes,

  • Ricky Buchanan
    May 20, 2010 10:23 am

    I guess it is mindful awareness, just not as intense as the type that you described. It certainly seems to fill something in my soul that isn’t filled by anything else, so it’s very valuable to me.

    My 29 gifts challenge was fantastic – I actually haven’t written up the last entry but I had a wonderful time and established some fun habits that I’ve been keeping up since it ended on the 3rd of February.

    My favourite new habit is always having a pen and a sticky note pad with me and whenever I’m stuck in a waiting room with magazines I write little happy messages and put them in the magazines for people to find! My favourite thing to write – especially for doctors’ waiting rooms – is “Smiles are contagious – start an epidemic today!”, but I also write the type of notes you’ll find on and little quotes of my own about relaxing/being happy/being happy with yourself. I love to imagine people finding them and feeling cheered.

    Another new habit I’m working on keeping up is writing or typing three (or more) positive things that were in my day, every day. I actually use a Facebook app to record mine but doing it on paper would work just as well. Focussing on some good things that happened every day, especially done just before bed which I usually do, is a lovely gift to myself.

    So I got a lot out of the 29 Gifts challenge! How about you? I’d love to see a followup article about how you went :)


    • Hi Ricky,
      As far as my 29 Gifts challenge, I didn’t do one explicitly. For me it was more a general shift of mindset toward being open to receiving, which is still harder for me to do than to give. And though it’s an ongoing practice of mine, I don’t think I have enough to turn it into a followup article!

      Best wishes,

  • Ricky Buchanan
    May 28, 2010 5:27 am

    I know what you mean about it becoming ongoing practice. I’m glad you’re being more open to receiving – that was a hard one for me as I had to learn to receive happily because of my disability. Mum said to me once that receiving graciously was a gift that I could give back to the gift-giver (only I think she said it in a more quotable way), and I took it very much to heart… It helped me a lot with being open to receiving :).



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