As I write this blog post, I am preparing for a 10 day, silent retreat at a women's Buddhist retreat centre a few hours south of my home. I will be offline and encouraged to set aside all reading and writing devices for the entire retreat. The thought of this, I must admit, is a bit terrifying. I am well acquainted with being on my own and not talking much. I prefer silence to idle chatter. However, I do not go anywhere without a book or two, a magazine, my journal, and various pens and writing implements.
Writing and reading are my coping tools. I have used them since I was a child. I remember waiting with anticipation for the bookmobile to come around my neighbourhood in the summer. I learned to read when I was five years old, and from that young age, I consumed books like candy. They helped me learn about families and worlds far beyond my own, and I was soothed by the notion that other children struggled with issues and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, too.
My husband was often confounded by my need to carry a load of books with me, wherever we went, even if it was only a short drive into the hills. I did not always use them, but I had to have them with me. At night I would bring a book or my Kindle to bed. This was an issue for us, as he could not sleep with any sort of light in the room, and I needed to be able to read myself to sleep. When he went upstairs to bed, he put his head on the pillow, and went to sleep. It seemed so simple to him. He did not suffer from insomnia or from anxiety around bedtime, as I did, and do, even more so, now that I have this life without him.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that was a sort of story in third person about a woman who brings her I Pad, other reading, and a snack upstairs to bed with her. Putting my bedtime rituals onto the page helped me to see that I needed to look at how I was choosing to soothe myself, and avoid the fact of my aloneness, particularly around bedtime. I began, after that, to gently try to change my approach, and tried leaving my electronic devices and snacks downstairs. I continued, however, to allow myself a novel or magazine.
I found that, as with many things, the fear of coming to bed without my coping tools was much greater than the reality. I was able to read a bit, then fall asleep, and my sleep felt deeper, and more natural. When I awakened in the night, as I often do, I was able to, most nights, return to sleep without having to read. I tried to just lie in bed and listen to my breathing, instead.
But now, for eleven days, I am asked to put even these small comforts aside. I am asked to try to sit with the silence and not 'do' anything, to set aside words and let my mind rest.
Perhaps this is what I am afraid of. Perhaps it is this that terrifies me the most--the things that may arise when my mind is at rest.
At home, when I sit for meditation, the sadness often wells up in me, from a deep place within, and I erupt into sobs. In the beginning, this happened every time I tried to sit, and for several weeks after Stan's death, I could not bear to meditate, as the sorrow it brought to the surface was just too great. But now, most days, I am able to sit for 30 or 40 minutes without crying. I am able to feel the sadness, which is always there, and let it pass.
But I wonder how will it be for me, when I have no buffers for this sadness? When I sit for six hours in meditation throughout the day, with nothing to soothe the sorrow, in between?
As the time for my retreat grows near, the fear of those long days without the comfort of words on the page, whether reading or writing them, increases.
This embracing of silence is not for the weak of heart. It is a big step. It is asking me to take off the blanket I have wrapped around me, to see me through the dark times, since I was a little girl.
I know that my husband would be very proud of me for stepping into this silence in a way I have never done before. I know that he would be applauding the efforts I have made, in the last few weeks and months, to set aside all of the compulsive habits I have used for so long, habits that soothe but also deaden me: television, long hours on the internet, and now, for a short while (not forever, I must remind myself), the comfort of words on the page.
I hope that my fellow retreatants will understand and look upon me with kindness when my meditations bring forth the sadness, and I cry. I will do my best to cry as quietly as possible, and perhaps I should warn them in advance!
I will be posting my next two blog posts before I leave, as I will not have access to internet. The following post, after my return, will reveal how this silence worked for me. I hope it will give me the space I need to grow, and that it will help me to turn loose of some of the habits I have developed, through the years, that hinder my growth.
I hope it will help me get clear.