The Other Side of Silence


I guess you could say this is part two of the silent retreat musings. The first bit  here was more about mindfulness and some of my inner experience. It may surprise you but after so long in silence (you guessed it), I still have MORE to say! haha!

If I had to categorize the other areas that really impressed on my mind, it's the importance of rest and refuge. 



A German lady who picked me up while hitchhiking commented that we are in so many ways products of our environment. And we don’t even know the extent until we change our environment and we are exposed to new ideas and ways of being. It is only at that point that we can really be intentional in choosing how we want to live because we actually know other options. It’s like a quote from Thoreau that a friend sent me that says 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Dharma Gaia is a very different environment from my environment at home and one thing that has really stood out to me is the concept of rest. I do not rest at home. I do not listen to my body. When I am tired, I don’t sleep—I drink caffeine or watch TV to numb out until midnight . Then I am more tired and the cycle continues. Not that caffeine or TV marathons are bad but it’s the idea of pushing myself past the brink and continuing a cycle of behaviors that simply do not nourish me. Add to that mass consumption of sugar and busyness and isolation. And then shame for the effects of those on my body and relationships

I still found myself leaning toward these tendencies to some degree but this retreat really highlighted my patterns and it was like someone gave me permission to listen to my body and rest. If I was tired and needed a nap, I could take a nap. If that meant missing an activity, that was ok. I struggle with FOMO (fear of missing out) but I could notice that dilemma and still choose to rest. 

I have a friend and we have been each others’ “sponsors” if you will as we work on goals that can be tough to achieve. I was thinking back about all of our goals and it’s always to do more of this or that—demand more of ourselves. I wondered what it would be like to have a goal to rest every day instead of getting 10k steps, hitting the gym, giving up carbs or sugar or soda, etc. I set those other goals hoping accomplishing those will make me happy. But often those demands are unrealistic to maintain and create  a stress that makes me MORE prone to engage in those things I am trying to restrict. And once again, shame and self recrimination come park it on my couch and roast me like I'm the presidential candidates on SNL.

Someone shared this quote at dharma sharing and it really struck home:

"In response to your question, “What is worth doing and what is worth having?” I would like to say simply this. It is worth doing nothing and having a rest. In spite of all the difficulty it may cause. You must rest Vasco—otherwise you will become RESTLESS! I believe the world is sick with exhaustion and dying of restlessness. While it is true that periods of weariness help the spirit to grow, the prolonged, ongoing state of fatigue to which our world seems to be rapidly adopting is ultimately soul destroying as well as earth destroying. The ecology of evil flourishes and love cannot take root in this sad situation. Tiredness is one of our strongest most noble and instructive feelings. It is an important aspect of our conscience and must be heeded or else we will not survive. When you are tired you must HAVE that feeling and you must act upon it sensibly—you MUST rest like the trees and animals do. Yet tiredness has become matter of shame! This is a dangerous development. Tiredness has become the most suppressed feeling in the world. Everywhere we see people overcoming their exhaustion and pushing on with intensity—cultivating the great mass mania which all around is making life so hard and ugly—so cruel and meaningless—so utterly graceless—and being congratulated for overcoming it and pushing it deep down inside themselves as if it were a virtue to do this. And of course Vasco, you know what happens when such strong and natural feelings are denied—they turn into the most powerful and bitter poisons with dreadful consequences. We live in a world of these consequences and then wonder why we are so unhappy. So I gently urge you Vasco, do as we do in Curly Flat—learn to curl up and rest—feel your noble tiredness-learn about it and make generous place for it in your life and enjoyment will surely follow. I repeat: it’s worth doing nothing and having a rest."

Gah! Don’t you LOVE that?! Can we all just make a goal to rest instead of seeing exhaustion as some kind of badge of honor? Make a “Not-To-Do” list? What kind of way is that to live? Do I really NEED to do all of the things on my to do list? I have been loving minimizing my material possessions (Thank you Life-Changing Magic of Tidying). Can I just minimize my activities too? Only keep the things that bring me joy? Only keep those things that are truly TRULY (not just perfectionist, anxiety-driven) necessities? 



So then Sister (the nun) asks us what is it that gives us rest? And where can we find refuge? One place of refuge for me the I noticed on this retreat was CREATIVITY. I am good at drawing but haven’t always loved it. Because so many times it becomes another thing on my giant to-do list or another exacerbation of perfectionism, another arena to compare myself and highlight my inadequacies. So on this retreat I decided I could just create for the joy of creating. No ulterior motives. No secret plan to sell something at a later date. No need to add it to my portfolio. It could be ugly as hell and I was going to try to be ok with that. Try. I would really try hard. Another practice in acceptance. Ugh. 

I let myself choose a subject and practice somewhat illustration-y full-color techniques. I want to be better at them but I don’t really practice much because I have set style that people are usually interested in when they order. I am not super confident I can deliver a consistently good, full-color piece. And I feel like if I’m going to be drawing, it should be earning me money. So basically I don’t leave time for me to just have fun. I have this photo of my sister that I adore and wanted to do a study in color. I can’t remember fully enjoying drawing so much in years!  And I feel so proud of what I have created. I just stared and stared at the portrait. Like I think I literally fell asleep looking at it. But I never would have created that if I wouldn’t have been giving myself refuge.


Creativity has NOTHING to do with being “good” at something. I believe that we have a divine nature within us that urges us to be creative. It’s inherent! Most of the time we don’t honor that is because somewhere along the road we have been shamed for our efforts. Which pisses me the hell off. Are there going to be ugly stages to creativity? Yes. But it’s not about being perfect! I talked to this girl once who said she wanted to take voice lessons but said she didn’t think it was worth it because it’s not like she was going to try to be in a play or try to be a recording artist. But what about all of those hours she could have had relishing what it felt like to sing with her whole heart, just for her own enjoyment. When did our own pleasure cease to be a valid priority? 

Another place of refuge for me is NATURE. I heard a definition of spirituality once (I’m thinking I might actually remember something from grad school haha) that was basically saying it's a connection to something larger than ourselves. I love that. My first real, noticeable encounter with mindfulness was when outdoors. I realized I had spent the entire outing completely present in my experience. I had not thought once about work or any other worries on my mind. It has since continued to be a refuge. Touching and smelling and seeing everything in nature around me reminds me that I am part of a grand and glorious system that impeccably designed, from the smallest grain of sand to the vast milky way. And I am part of it. I have a place here. I feel immense gratitude and joy in the outdoors…in the greatest creative work I have witnessed to date.


The last piece of refuge I observed is surprising given the silent nature of the retreat but it’s my COMMUNITY, my sangha. I thought about my different sanghas. During the retreat it was the people who were with me that were literally helping to hold this safe space for each other. And in dharma sharing, it was really cool to have people be so vulnerable and open with each other and to feel like I could do the same. It probably sounds weird to you but I promise, it’s powerful and healing. At Dharma Gaia, I have my little community that I live with and they have become a safe place for me in this new country. Sister says that the greatest and perhaps our only gift we can give to another is our presence. We are not to fix others. If we are doing more than is our business in the world, trying to “fix,” then we are not helping but probably making things worse. In the throws of “sitting in the fire” and feeling and thinking about all of the things, I had several moments of sheer gratitude for ALL of the safe people in my life that accept me who I am and how I am, that give me their presence and don’t spend their energy trying to fix me. I may often feel unwanted, unlovable, or not enough but there are people who want me, love me, and think I am enough. And when the fire feels like its too much, they are there with me, sitting in the fire too. I am not alone, even when I feel almost overcome with loneliness. 

So……and refuge. Take what you will from this very philosophical and personal blog post. I hope at the very least something in here helps you be a little more gentle, kind, and nourishing with yourself.