A Silent Weekend Away

A team member of IPOS took a weekend trip to a nearby monastery – here’s what happened…

“Since there is no real silence,
Silence will contain all the sounds,
All the words, all the languages,
All knowledge, all memory.”
Dejan Stojanovic

Prince of Peace Abbey rests atop a hill in Oceanside, California. It sits near dirt paths, scattered valleys and hills among hills. I checked in with a kind elderly monk who sat at a desk to pass out keys for those arriving on their weekend retreat. Excitedly I went to my room in some unhindered wild anticipation of revelations and clarity on life (sure, don’t we all hope for that on a weekend away?)

Walking outside reminded me of the strong and often unrecognized encounter between noise and silence (maybe unnoticed because noise typically trumps our perceptions). Perhaps this impacts all of our senses: noise and silence in sight, sound, taste, touch, and scent? I suppose it strikes me to realize that while I don’t always have a choice in what is ‘forced’ upon those senses, I do, to some degree, have a choice as to what I prefer to focus on.
Sitting alone in the church, I realized the Abbey was decidedly quiet alongside the birds reminding me I wasn’t alone, and the trees continuously applauding in the wind. …And then there’s the air traffic, did I mention the semi-continuous air traffic and constant hum of car traffic I could hear from nearly anywhere? However, to align myself with what I chose to see and hear, I brought myself back to being alone with the birds, the trees continued ovation, and even embraced the traffic hum.

Things always come up for me in silence, namely things I don’t want to think about and don’t care to see about myself or the world. On such a silent retreat, there’s still PLENTY of ways in which I can distract myself, and try to, but there’s still always some slow nagging silent loneliness that asks for my company. I usually give in, painfully, only to sit with unexplained tears, unnamed sadness, uncelebrated joy, unfamiliar terror, undistinguished light. I’m never really sure what comes of these moments other than an awareness of uncharted areas of myself that come up to surface for a hello. And, I greet and accept their company, maybe it’s because I know we don’t have to be together long.

Interrupting, or perhaps joining my silent church moment walked in a monk carrying a nearly dead plant. He kindly and quietly walked it over for some water, checking other plants and flowers along the way – gently tending to their needs. I was reminded of the human connection of silence in moments like these – between me and the others in the silent dining room, between the flowers and I as I walked back to my room; the space of unspoken allies.

Realizing my world is as loud or as quiet as I choose to see it, I suppose I leave refreshed knowing that I have that choice. Living in the midst of transportation, technology, voices, music, etc. may not help my choice, but it allows me to think that perhaps there’s someone or something alive out there who joins with me when I choose to be silent.