"To hear, one must be silent."
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
It has taken me a few months to venture into the waters of silence. I'd like to say I purposely chose to wade in, but it has happened gradually and accidentally at first. Like so many folks these days, technology has made it all too easy for me to be distracted - the computer, the TV, the phone, notepads - so easy and enticing.
With John's death, 21 months ago today to be exact, I initially found silence to be foreboding. In the middle of the night, when I would wake to overwhelming grief and anxiety, it became a habit to get up, turn on the TV or music and distract myself until I could fall back to sleep. During the day, I would read (usually with a background of music), or call a friend, or run off to do errands or attend a meeting—anything to keep the pain at bay, at least for a little while. At least until I could parcel it out in doses and drum up tried and true approaches that had guided me through other challenges of my life - approaches, in retrospect, that only kept the demons at bay.
And then, the virus hit, and though I thought and hoped, as many of us did, that everything would be back to normal by autumn, the rising statistics this summer soon proved me wrong. June and July presented a confrontation with everything I believed about myself, the future, and my ability to quiet the cacophony in my head and plan for the future. How does one plan for such an unknown future?
Then, one recent morning, with no particular reason that I can recall, I started to journal in total silence. No music, no news, silence, and the quality of my writing and the level of honesty was so noticeably different that I knew immediately that I could only still the inner noise and confusion by being willing to be quiet enough to hear and deal with it.
At first, I was stunned by a level of grief that I now realize I had simply covered up. Cloudbursts of tears became thunderstorms at the mere glance at John's photo or the discovery of a loving card. I could feel waves of irritation or anxiety physically when I prepared to run even the simplest errand. The more I wrote in silence, the more I got in touch with outrage over how this virus has been mishandled and my dismay over the distrust, nastiness, and division I see in my country. The more I wrote, I more I got in touch with a fear of incompetence and a degree of loneliness I had not felt in decades.
Gradually, I lengthened the periods of silence. I wrote more and more. Began to take my lunch out to the patio and just listen for birds or children playing behind the backyard wall. Slowed down and enjoyed my food. Noticed the sound of the breeze through the trees in the early hours of the morning or Rufus' gentle breathing as he curled up beside me in bed. Caught an idea as it surfaced unexpectedly.
But most importantly, I recognized, quite abruptly in fact, that my underlying fear was not that I couldn't cope with the present, but instead that I had no sense of purpose for the future, and that I knew errands, and house maintenance and even volunteering were no longer enough. That, without John, I have come to yearn for family and physical proximity to people with whom I have a longer and more intimate shared history. At that very moment, I decided that I will move to New York State when my younger sister retires. At that very moment, I accepted that just as a future decision has emerged in my willingness to be still, so will a larger purpose.
One recent night I realized that I hadn't watched TV for a week other than to turn on some music while I cleaned the house. And that I am going to bed earlier and sleeping better. That when I do wake, I don't get upset. I merely read awhile until I go back to sleep. That projects are emerging more naturally, like simplifying the house, not just organizing it. Or finding it easier to let go of "stuff" because I'm already thinking of moving. Or knowing what I want to blog about without false starts and second-guessing!
Am I totally comfortable with silence? Not by a long shot. Do I plan to take up meditation? Not now, not yet. But I am growing comfortable with long stretches of silence, more confident that I will hear what I need to hear. And, surprisingly, grateful for this period of solitude.