On retreat at a meditation center, I inadvertently broke my silence on the last of five days of quiet. I hadn't faced much difficulty with staying silent on the retreat. There were, of course, moments where automatic reflexes kicked in and I felt an urge to utter an apology when bumping into someone. However, I quickly found myself dropping further and further into the Noble Silence.
Part of what made it easy to settle in had to do with the sense of temporary community at the center. Everyone arrived ready to respect the quiet. We took seriously our responsibility to collectively nurture the silence. Quiet is a public good mauled by the tragedy of the commons. To enter a community of intentional silence was a breath of fresh air. Or, rather, it was an earful of fresh silence.
The ease of settling in made my inadvertent breaking of the silence all the more memorable. During the retreat, I quickly adopted a routine of getting up early and making a cup of coffee before our morning sit. I found that the ritual not only comforted me in a unique way — the solitude of the dining hall was an even deeper kind of quiet found only at the bookends of the day — but also the energizing caffeine banished the haziness that too often can visit during morning practice.
Before dawn on that last day, I began walking down the path to the kitchen to brew a cup when the immensity of the night sky halted me in my tracks. Piercing, radiating starlight punctured my chest, swelled, and then I gently breathed, "Wow."
I've experienced wonder and awe many times in my life. The moments of rapture come in many beautiful shapes and sizes. The release of "Wow" in the starlight may have been the most pure expression of awe in my life as yet because of the quiet that preceded it.
Silence, solitude, quiet, sanctuary — whatever you call it — offers fertile ground. So much grows there: reflection, transformation, healing, tranquility. So much can flow from a rest in that space, too. As we move on from a moment of quiet, we carry with us the fruits of its fertile ground. Often, we don't even know that we still carry them. Resting in the quiet, we tip silent dominoes that fall for many moments in the future.
Where is your quiet? What grows there? How can you come again to that space as to nurture you for the road ahead?
Off to find mine.