I recently voluntarily (those strongly encouraged) engaged in 26 hours of social silence. This meant no small talk over meals, no cracking wise-ass remarks to those around me, not complementing a passerby, or needing to filter the words I’m saying because I wasn’t saying anything.
This was part of the curriculum for my 200 hr yoga teacher training at a world-renowned yoga center. A place that was and is a safe haven for me, where some of the greatest minds in the yogic world come to share their knowledge and help advance others on their path. I was in no position to question the wisdom of this 26hr adventure into solitude.
I knew that this would be happening weeks ahead of time. I was talking to the main farmer in my community about this, explaining what the 26 hours would look like. Now, this is a man who in a year of weekly meetings may raise his hand to share his opinion a mere six times. Often when he does speak all else ceases because it is captivating to hear the words of the unknown. So as I am explaining this period of silence to him he gets a big smile on his face and starts laughing and says ”That is going to be really hard for you, now isn’t it?”
I glared in response.
Now leading up to this time I was filled with a general anxiety. Not really about anything in particular but just the idea of silence in general. I felt like I was going to explode just thinking about trying to hold all of my words and thoughts inside. So I did what any natural any reasonably inclined person would do, I invited a group of my friends to go outside and partake in a Tarzan yell before committing to the silence. For those who may not know what this is, it is pounding on your chest with your fists and crying out as Tarzan or Jane might while swinging from vine to vine in the jungle. I thought this would be a good release, in actuality it only amped up my already intense anxious energy.
This aversion was mysterious to me. I could not name its source. It was not about anything specifically rather just the idea of being confined to silence. It was really interesting to me that I was having such a negative reaction to something that I knew that I could end at any point in time, however, I knew if I didn’t really try to do this I would feel like I was selling myself short.
What I quickly realized in my silence, is that in welcoming the silence you welcome everything that follows thereafter. When we create space that space then becomes filled. So whether subconsciously or not by filling all of the space in my life with words or music or written letters, or intentional walks in nature, I was never sitting with myself. I was never taking the opportunity to look inside myself. And although I had decided the month before that I was done going to therapy, a mere few hours of silence made me aware of the fact that I still had quite a lot to work through. That much like Shrek the ogre I am an onion with many layers.
And this whole emotional process was happening while in the midst of an intensive teacher training of 10 hours a day of content. I think that if I had taken a silent retreat with just the act of being silent and journaling it could have been a very insightful experience. However, that was not the opportunity that has presented itself to me. So instead of some enlightening experience, I became exceedingly frustrated and angry with nowhere for my channeled resentment to go.
This culminated for me while my class was taking a silent walk through the woods. While the class itself was silent the teacher was giving us prompts for a meditative walk. At one point he prompted us to hug a tree as that is his favorite thing to do in the woods. Incited by rage I began to think Who the fuck does this tiny man think he is, telling me to hug a tree? Like I haven’t been hugging trees my whole goddamn life.
To which I immediately realized that this was not an appropriate response to have, given the fact I had been very excited to take this walk, and I very much respected the man leading the walk. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼This was when I realized I still have a lot of personal growth and development to do.
I have spent my whole life milking every experience, making the most of things, pulling myself up by the bootstraps, that I had forgotten to take the time to ask myself how I thought about those things. While I currently am very in tune with the happenings of my life these days, it does not disclude years of detachment from life’s events.
I write about this experience now because current life seems a similar recipe for this former experience. That self-isolation during a global crisis is bringing up a similar sensation as social silence during an intensive experience. And while it is not that I am silent, how I am communicating and connecting is drastically changing, paired with the sensation in both scenarios of not be able to process the range of emotions currently in a pressure cooker.
If you are experiencing anything in this capacity know that I am here for you. Find moments of respite in your day. I don’t often have time to work my way around my mala beads but I do chant my mantra in a free moment, or do a short meditation. Force yourself to focus on the positive. Make a list of things as they come up for you to look for common themes to take up later. If you find yourself unemployed at this time actively take up this work. Or if you are an essential worker, such as myself, give yourself permission to return to these things later. I realize now that the work will always be there we just need to make the space to be aware of it and then consciously commit to taking it up.