Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of God.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A student once asked me about the attraction, the benefit, of a silent retreat. He’d read of them, and wondered how/why they might be useful.
For those who have practiced silence, or who have attended a weekend retreat of silence, many report its profound effect. We all took our turns at one point during that first year at the temple, to go off on our own . . . . whether to the little shack at the very top of White Horse Mountain, or simply to the other side of it, we’d disappear for a few days or a week or in my case, much longer.
We grow our own food at the Temple, and the garden was always accessible for food. Perhaps, too, there might be some left over rice in the kitchen we could sneak in to grab, as well as to fill our thermos of potable water. Otherwise, it was the mountain and us.
In the evenings, we had the milky way in the sky to keep us company, or the sound of a wild pig roaming about nearby. Otherwise, we had our thoughts, or not if we simply let them fall away.
With no one to speak with of the day, we turned inward. Seeking that quiet spot, that point of stillness within, we simply took our place as a part of the mountain, blended in as a member of the forest. We became so woven into the fabric of the natural world there was no separation between us and the trees, the ancient rock walls and little caves that litter the mountain, and the Yellow Dragon River 1600 meters below.
It was easy to understand why the Daoist monks of centuries ago had climbed this mountain and remained on it. With no ambient light or noise to intrude, you are truly left with only your thoughts. Eventually, though, they drop off too, dissolving in the mists below as they fall from the mountain’s top. After all, they were only thoughts.
I’m a spiritual counselor for Hospice here in the Berkshires, and one of my Hospice patients rarely wishes to speak now during our visits.? I sit with her in silence, holding her hand, as we watch the squirrels outside her room scurry up and down the trees and about the grounds of the nursing home. Some of the best conversations she and I have had during our time together were when neither of us spoke.
There is a calm, a peace, that presents eventually in these withdrawals from the noise of man. There is no need to amuse yourself, as there is no room in the moment for either amusement or the effort it requires. Frankly, there is no need for it, as you become fully immersed in the silence.
Alone, and yet not lonely, you are free to simply be. You are a part of the moment, and a part of everything everywhere.
No words are necessary, and even if you were not alone, they would not likely be spoken. Moments speak for themselves, and you can hear them if you listen closely enough.
Are they the whispers of god? The Great Dao? I don’t know, and, frankly, don’t care.? I simply wish to be silent enough to hear them, whatever their source. To simply be.