I participated in my very first silent retreat last year right after Thanksgiving.
It was scary and I was nervous. Could I, a regular chatterbox, hold silence for an entire week? Well, it was actually five nights, but who’s counting?
I have to share with you that it was simply profound. My husband was sure I would come back and talk his ear off to make up for all those words I did not get to say out loud each day. Some experts say women use about 20,000 words per day, whereas men use only about 7,000. This is certainly a generalization, but in our relationship we have found it to be fairly accurate. He was steeled for the onslaught of all those 100,000 words like a brave soldier! Bless his heart.
What we found happened, though, was that due to the prolonged silence—more than silence, actually, I think stillness is a better way to express what I experienced—I came home very still. Very present and just a lot quieter than “normal” for me.
As the year went on, that deep stillness was ever present, but things around me seemed to ratchet up a notch or two every month, until the coup de gras just before my return to the retreat this week—our largest international conference of the year in our company…the most hectic, busy and certainly noisy time of the year.
I felt almost desperate for the silent retreat this time around.
There was no nervousness, nothing scary, just a sense of relief that I was going to be able to really dwell in the Presence for these five days and five nights.
So here I was, on the 101 driving South out of San Jose to Asilomar Conference Center, a lovely, peaceful and rustic retreat center in the Monterrey Bay and I was just booking it, not thinking about anything in particular, not playing any music, just enjoying myself, the sunset-shrouded surroundings and the prelude of silence before entering the deeper stillness of retreat.
Now I have no idea how long he was behind me, but some kind of emergency vehicle was right on my bumper with lights a-blazin’. I thought to myself, “Yikes! I better get out of his way.” But then, as I moved into the right lane, so did he! Oh no, I was being pulled over for speeding!! The irony of it was lost on me until a couple of days later. Had I actually been speeding to get to a place where I could slow down?
When the full realization of the hilarity of what had happened hit me, it was all I could do to refrain from laughing out loud and breaking my discipline of silence.
But isn’t that how we are? Knowing full well how to maintain a saner, less frantic pace, we get caught up with the stream of life around us and end up once again out of balance. Balance is an interesting thing to consider. When you think about learning to walk and the balance we had to master as toddlers to be able to just stand unassisted, much less to take those first steps, we can reflect on the reality that what we actually had to master was not just balance, but moving in and out of balance without falling!
Here I was, out of balance, but moving back into a place of center in order to maintain my forward-moving trajectory. It is all good. Very good. I bless the officer who blessed me with that tangible reminder that I do not have to speed up in order to slow down. That reminder is worth any amount of money and traffic school!
Beth Misner is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.