My lips are sealed, as a gift, to you (Retreating into Silence, post 1 of 10)
On a rainy, mildly warm late October afternoon, I drove myself up to Bethel Farm, NH for a silent retreat. I’d not done an extended silent retreat like this, but I have a regular meditation and yoga practice, and I’d been on plenty of yoga retreats before, many of which incorporate meditation and silent sittings, and I’d read books and blog posts written by people who had experienced silent retreats before, but somehow I still didn’t know quite what to expect.
The retreat was led by Josh Summers and Linda Modaro. I’d met Josh at a Yin Teacher Training weekend, which is when and how I learned about the retreat. I didn’t know Linda. I tried to creep on her on social media and it turns out she doesn’t really do social media. (But she is on the web, therefore she exists.)
Josh reframed the idea many have of a silent retreat, from an experience in which you “can’t talk” to that of an offering; our silence is a gift to each other. I liked this framing. I like the sound (or lack thereof) of this kind of gift. So far, so good.
I took note of the 19 other people with whom I’d be sharing in this gift of Nobel Silence. In these first couple of hours, arrival and settling in, we were not yet practicing silence. I admit that I felt some disappointment that we couldn’t drop right into silence for the long stretch. The idea of a couple of hours of making small talk didn’t ‘speak’ to me. I was eager to get the silent party started.
We went to the dining hall, where a woman who had traveled from California to participate in this retreat took my hands in greeting. Her hands felt warm, welcoming. “My, your hands are cold!” she exclaimed, but instead of shrinking away, she covered my hand with both of hers and wished some warmth into my palm.
I sat with some strangers, and we dined together, chatting casually. I assumed, at the time, that whatever surface level details I learned of my fellow retreaters over this one speaking-approved meal would likely be the extent to which I would know them. After all, how much can you really get to know some one just by sitting near them, in silence?
I would soon find out.