Recently, I was fortunate to spend a week – more or less – alone in complete silence. Now, I am in the midst of a community-building engagement program. As suggested by the name, the program involves lots of communication and connection with those belonging to my current community, and interaction with other external communities too. In short, a lot of talking: a big jump from my week of silence, in which I felt very isolated from the external.
During the week, I intentionally secluded myself from the social. Whilst I allowed myself the space to write, draw and meditate, I did so without human interaction or stimuli (including music). I certainly had moments of what I would categories as complete silence. In these moments, stillness displaced an awareness of body, of mind. In doing so, I was suspended in time, and suspended in space. I felt still, completely and utterly quiet. However, beyond these moments, I never actually felt like I was silent. Further, I never felt that I was alone. I engaged in much inner conversation, and became an observer of my thoughts, my feelings, and watched their passing through the cross-sections of consciousness. In doing so, I became comfortable with both silence and non-silence.
I caught myself out, by effortlessly feeling at peace, and very connected to my surrounds: to the food that I was eating, to the plant that sat on the window sill, to my body and my heart. As thoughts floated through my mind, so too did images and colours. I noted that thoughts are not my own; my feelings, ideas, existence – they come from elsewhere. When I observed my thoughts, I saw where they came from – I saw that they could not exist if it weren’t for the external. They could not exist if it weren’t for my connection to the outside. Through awareness, the line that separates the external and internal is a furry, blurred mind that ultimately is an illusion.
It was quite the shock transferring to a large group environment. A few days have passed, and the contrast is becoming less obvious as time progresses. During the first day in particular I noted some changes in the way in which I communicated. First, deep self-reflection had resulted in a heightened awareness of myself – but in a way that reiterated how my ‘self’ is indeed simply an accumulation of everything around me. This reiterated my view that I am not my own: I am an extension of the Earth. Observing how the outside world flows through me, particularly when I erode pre-conceptions of what is, i.e. judgement, is a beautiful and raw way to exist. Armed with this understanding, I am trying to practice living in a raw way. Second, I realised just how powerful not saying something can be. Sometimes, leaving gaps in conversation can create as much meaning as filling those gaps with words. A smile, or a gesture, might be an appropriate filler: and more meaningful than speaking. Third, I realised how much I like to listen, and to feel my way into conversations, and being. This point, a continuation from the last, also relies on the power of space – the power of not saying anything at all. By creating a comfortable space, through feeling in to a situation and then assessing and appropriate reaction, communication flows freely and without effort. In these situations, we find ourselves connecting in a way that tests the boundaries of what is typically socially expected and accepted. In doing so, our communication becomes both honest, and creative. Free.