Golden? Terrifying? Unfamiliar?
Personally I’d go with the last two. I am rarely silent. For those who don’t know me, I am little miss chatterbox and have been asked, at times, if I have an off-switch (the answer was always no). I can be just as chatty first thing in the morning as last thing at night, but more than just being a real talker, I am more often than not surrounded drowning in auditory input. If I kept a sound diary it might start off a bit like this:
Radio clicks on, followed shortly by the alarm. Take shower accompanied by radio.
Sit down to breakfast in front of the BBC news on TV
Out of the front-door, plug in ipod, travel to work.
You can guess the rest. Evenings when spent at home usually involve putting the TV on while I eat, and sometimes it stays on all evening just in the background while I do other things – there’s not much I actually watch, but I generally have it on. Failing that, I might play music while I cook, take a bath or talk on the phone. Of course yoga is the exception, it’s the chance to hear nothing but the sound of your own breath and the overheard suggestions or adjustment cues given to fellow practitioners, but going to a friendly shala with a unisex communal changing room means that there is usually friendly chat after practice (though of course it’s not compulsory). Socially, I have moved away from bars and clubs over the past few years and so catching up with friends usually means either dinner, or coffee & cake, with a huge side order of talking. So though-out the day, all day every day, if I’m not talking, I’m listening: either to music, to the radio, to the TV – there is always sound. I could argue that I often use it drown out something else – this is especially true on public transport where the hour I travel each way to work every day is greatly eased by the addition of music, but it still remains the fact that I am rarely surrounded by the sound of silence.
So it is very strange that in the past week I have twice found myself absolutely craving just that – silence. Maybe I had felt it before but not recognised it until now, I don’t know, and I have always relished having time in my own company to decompress during busy times, but I can’t say this specific need is something I’ve ever experienced before. The first time was on Saturday, after Cary’s lovely garden party (you can read about it and see pictures on Kevin or Susan’s blogs!). I spent the afternoon chatting with shala friends (not just yoga chat!) and eating lots of homemade goodies, and it was really lovely. When we were leaving I was considering heading to a kirtan class but on the way back to the station I realised that all I really really wanted was to go home and be quiet. I wondered if going and spending the evening chanting instead would take me to the same sort of place as a relaxed evening at home (involving, as it would, the 1 hour schlep each way to Primrose Hill), but I knew it wasn’t what my body and mind wanted. So I came straight home, went out into the early evening sunshine and lay on a lounger in my garden with a book, but found that after a few lines my mind didn’t even want the internal reading voice to disturb it. So I sat, closed my eyes and soaked up the sunshine.
Then last night after work, the same thing happened (only if anything, it was more marked). I’d had a great yoga practice in the morning and spent the whole day feeling simultaneously energetic and completely calm. It was generally a great day at work (which I should say is highly unusual!), things have changed a little lately and I am hoping that the new set-up will leave me feeling more fulfilled and involved in what I’m doing – in essence I couldn’t have been happier. Then at around 4pm it was as if someone flicked a switch and I felt hugely drained with a weird dragging sensation in my hips and legs, I was freezing cold, had pain in my lower back, and the biggest need to just get home. So when I got back I was happy to be home, but instead of putting the TV on as usual I made dinner, checked my email, read a few blogs, and then ran a bath. With my lodger away, and no phone calls, I spent the evening in complete silence, having recognised the craving from Saturday.
And as I lay in the bath I experienced a moment of complete stillness of the mind. The sensation was profound. I don’t think I ever experienced it before that moment.
Because of course external noise is one thing, but what I realise now is that I have to think about how it’s affecting the internal noise too – the monkey mind and the inner chatterbox. In the past I know I have experienced more mental noise from what I haven’t said. The words “I love you” burned in my mind for months without ever reaching my lips, so I know how much I can torture myself with what I wish I could say. But these days I find myself able to say what I really feel more readily, I can be more honest, but I still suffer from a very busy mind. But last night’s experience makes me wonder if the external noise just makes the internal noise that much worse? I suppose there is only one way to find out, but I have always been terrified of the idea of being alone with my own brain. I mean honestly, what could be worse? Even on yoga retreats I have always spent a huge amount of the day chatting with fellow retreaters, so avoiding the possibility of making the most of the peace and quiet that is on offer. This is why I have so far shied away from meditation classes: although I want to try, I can put my reluctance down to straight-forward fear of what I will find when I am left alone with my thoughts. I suppose I’m scared that I will unravel completely, and that left alone with no external distraction my mind will uncover it’s deepest fears and regrets and serve them all up on a platter.
But what I never considered until now was the alternative: that perhaps something wonderful would happen...so maybe this is the next thing I need to explore. But if anyone says Vipassana I will scream – and that’s a promise!