I’ve allowed myself to feel stressed about work recently and as this is a habit I want to break, action had to be taken, so I signed up for an online silent retreat with my spiritual mentor Marion Young.
Some people have asked why I would pay to sit in my own bedroom in silence when I could do it for free. True and if you can do that great, but I need structure when it comes to prolonged silence. If I am not taking part in a retreat, I might be tempted to check my e-mails or strike up a conversation with one of the kids.
Paying for a retreat is also a way of giving myself permission to take the day off I guess. I told my colleagues and clients that I wouldn’t be available at all between the hours of 10am and 4.30pm and unplugged myself. Bliss!
At the start of our retreat, Marion shared a poem by Mary Oliver which sums up the day nicely:
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
by Mary Oliver
“Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.” Such a profound sentence and so true! Whenever I feel disconnected from the HP (higher power, God, whatever you want to call it), which is usually down to frenetic busyness, a day of silence is like plugging straight back in.
Things kicked off at 10am and by midday, my mind had slowed, shoulders had dropped and I felt freer than I had in ages.
Recently, the cool tang of autumn has been making me feel nostalgic and during the silence, I couldn’t stop thinking about my paternal grandmother. When I say ‘couldn’t stop thinking’, I wasn’t actively remembering her, she just kept popping into my head.
I recalled being in her kitchen, while she baked. She had a budgerigar called Bobby who would twitter away happily in the background, competing with my grandfather, whose tuneless whistle wafted around the house interminably. I remembered skipping down the garden path, past the smiling pansies and over the manhole cover, that would make a pleasant ‘kerthunk’ every time I ran over it.
When I was little, being with my grandmother felt a bit like how spending time in silence does today. I was always enough in her eyes and she never once scolded me. It wasn’t always like that back at home, where things were, shall we say, a little more dramatic.
My mother didn’t have much time for my paternal grandmother. She considered her ‘weak’ because she was never outspoken, allowed her husband to be mean with her (apparently) and well, she didn’t have an education and bought her clothes from jumble sales.
I loved her to bits and it is only now, at the age of 56, that I can see how her gentleness was in fact, an enormous strength. Her first child died at the age of three and she didn’t allow sadness to stifle her heart.
When I was 26, she was diagnosed with cancer and spent her final weeks in a nursing home. Every Sunday, I drove for an hour and a half to see her. She could barely speak, so I sat by her bed, held her hand, and chatted as if we were still in that kitchen, making her infamous rock cakes, that were in actual fact, as tough to eat as actual rocks, not that it mattered.
During my last visit, I asked ‘Are you scared Nan?’ and she creased up her closed eyes and nodded weakly. I kissed her forehead and told her not to be afraid, that she would be fine and during my silent retreat, I pictured her being met on the other side, by her son, Douglas, whom she’d lost all those years ago.
I could see myself through her eyes in the midst of my silence on Friday and it was patently obvious why she loved me so much. I recognised her strength, the purity of her love, and how important it was to me as a child. She was my safe haven. At home, gentleness was frowned upon. Who wants to be a gentle, downtrodden sap? Me as it happens.
My grandmother had a difficult childhood. She went through some things I can’t even contemplate and she lost her firstborn child, yet she was never anything, but quietly loving to those around her. It’s taken a while, but I can see now, that she was as strong as a lion. And what a gift she gave me. Thank-you Nan. x