I have been struggling for some time now with the compelling feeling of wanting to take a kind of inner refuge. The more I inquire about things along my journey, the more I have this desire to go in. It’s not that I want to become some sort of a recluse. That’s not it all, but I do want to find a more meaningful and enriched way to live. I am a mother to two beautiful girls, a wife to a sweet, supportive husband. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a yoga teacher, a stranger to many. All these labels define me from the outside. Who am I really? I need to go inside to find that in the most authentic way.
It’s not about running away, but, perhaps, it’s about not giving in to the pressure to always be engaged in a social way, to not be driven by the next ‘to-do’ on my list. What I really want is to feel connected. And sometimes the societal pressure of socializing and contextualizing every aspect of our day, in all the various forms of communication we have, is overwhelming. It is even underwhelming. It undermines the experience by the need to put it into words, and by not giving it enough time to move through us. I love my family and my community, and, while that is true, I still want to go inside for deeper self reflection. I have resisted this in ways because I feel bad wanting to just be by myself. I feel that in some way going in neglects what is on the outside.
On the sixth day of a ten day training/retreat with Sarah Powers, we were asked take a twenty-four hour period of mindfulness and silence. Silence meaning social silence. What a relief to not have the pressure to socially engage! When we engage, we often engage in the context of words, and sometimes I only know what I feel in my body. The words escape me. Other times I forget to offer myself the time to feel and be with experience long enough to understand it. I allow myself to get distracted. And in this way, we spiral into the busyness of our life without really feeling at all. We live actively, but feelings become passive. They go unnoticed, unfelt. It takes away from the inner richness that life can offer. I want to feel. I want to feel when my daughter throws a tantrum to seek my attention. I want to feel when my husband and I have a conflict. I want to feel when I receive a loving embrace, when I see the morning sunrise, the evening sunset. It’s that simple. And when I learn to feel the depths and heights of my own humanity, maybe I’ll be able to offer that in return.
As we took this day of silence, we put badges on that said “In Silence”. I almost felt like we had a sign on our foreheads stating that we were social outcasts. To many the idea of social silence seems absurd. For me, it was a welcome change. As I passed the other students who were on the retreat, there was a comfort in knowing I didn’t have to explain anything I was feeling or not feeling. We could pass one another with a gentle smile and that was enough. The pressure was off. The need to Facebook anything was off. Phone and texting – off. The need to call home and check in on my girls was set aside for twenty four hours. All so that I could experience life through my body. And of course, my mind wandered. My mind told me many wonderful stories during this time. But when the stories, the sensations and the feelings passed, I could come back to the refuge that is in silence – to a place of inner quietude.
The next morning of our social silence, I sat with two of my friends for breakfast. Initially, I felt slightly awkward. The impulse to break the silence was there, but I stayed with it. Eventually the quiet gave me some space. I could be with my friends, but I didn’t feel compelled to talk. Instead of talking and analyzing everything that we were learning and what it all meant, and where were confused and where we were clear, we just sat. When another let out a sigh, I felt a sense of relief through their breath. Instead of talking, I felt the air upon my skin and the cool mist softly land upon on my face. Slowly, what felt awkward settled and in it’s place there was ease. Brilliant. Without talking about what we were learning, we were experiencing it. And that too not on the comfort of my cushion, but through the seat of life itself.
Life is always changing. If we can meet what arises, rather than finding a way to avoid it, the more we move toward life. What feels difficult in this moment can very likely change in the next if we give it a chance. What feels comfortable and rooted can just as likely slip away. The more we can move toward the natural flow of life, without avoiding it, grasping it or even becoming disinterested in it, the greater the opportunity to be enriched by it. The more we seek out what feels easy, the less ease we will have when life is hard. So this isn’t the easy path by any means, but it’s one that is intriguing enough for me to continue trying, and that too trying for what I imagine will take a life-time of practice.