I am spending the weekend in silence with a group of Quakers. It’s remarkable. Without verbal communication THERE IS SO MUCH ROOM, TO THINK, TO BE, TO CREATE. It is a relief be HERE, in silence. As I’ve said before, getting away causes the excess to melt.
We live in such a noisy world, and we add to that noise unconsciously. As we sat in a circle this morning to center ourselves there were noises everywhere, and they were loud!
“How is this possible?” I thought. “We left the city to enter into silence, and yet…” Geese were honking, kids were playing, basketballs were bouncing, and the refrigerator was running, doors slamming, shoes squeaking. The cacophony seemed to be building until finally we all just laughed, and privately we wondered about the meaning of silence. Does it truly exist?
I have had stupid songs playing in my head almost constantly between, and sometimes during meditations today. Even though I haven’t spoken a word in 24 hours, my brain is FULL of them. On a walk with my boyfriend I made fun of my own failed attempts to tell him a joke using gestures, wondering a little too late why I had felt the need to communicate anything beyond a loving squeeze of his hand.
In my apartment at home I keep a room as empty as possible. There are beautiful things hanging on the walls, an altar in one corner, and a closet full of stuff, but it still looks EMPTY. I love that room because it offers me a sort of physical silence, as if the excess of objects in other rooms made noise. (Come back next week to see a photo of this room along with the rest of my apartment!)
There have been very few moments today when I thought it might be useful to speak. Most of them were related to trivial things like ‘I think she’s still using that spoon,’ or ‘Maybe you could put your hat over there,’ or ‘I agree the cheesecake was good.’ And then there was another moment when we were all eating together, and I thought how easy it would be to make myself heard if I spoke out of the silence – how my voice would resonate, how easy it would be to stand out. It’s the difference between a single note on the desktop instead of piles and piles of paper files – it matters so much more.
I talk a lot, normally, just because I can, or because silence seems to make people uncomfortable, or because there are trivial details that need to be sorted out. Now I’m wondering, do I waste words? Can I narrow it down? How would this affect my life? Language is a type of clutter. I was never aware of it until now. I’ve sought an escape from noise before, but in many ways this silent retreat is the loudest of all because I am truly listening. I HEAR EVERYTHING. And there is more clearing that needs to be done, always.
In The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruize says, “Be impeccable with your word.” I think I'm starting to get it.
I’m back in Paris today with a renewed belief in the power of travel. Of course it’s always educational and exciting to visit a different world, but being away from home is even more important. We must put distance between our selves and our homes in order to see them clearly for what they are.
At the Musée D’Orsay there is a remarkable collection of paintings by Seurat and his contemporaries. These are the paintings made up of tiny dots of paint. When you stand close to the canvas you see patterns of light blue and beige. When you stand back you see a circus, or a naked woman! This is a perfect analogy for the way we live our lives. As we navigate a day at work, juggling projects, running errands, getting things done, we see the details. We see the dry cleaning receipt, the subject lines of endless emails, the price tags on deli cheeses, a low phone battery, or a missing button. Now stand back and somehow these details merge with other details to form the masterpiece that is your life!
Standing back can be really hard. It’s not like you can just take a few steps backward and watch your life suddenly start to make sense. Sometimes a deep breath with your eyes closed can seriously interrupt that myopic rushing around, but when that’s not enough anymore, the best thing to do is leave. Breathe some different air, sleep in a different bed, speak a different language, and return home with a fresh perspective.
Looking out over a valley full of trees strikes most people as beautiful. How amazing to think about how many individual leaves come together to make that panoramic view possible!
When it comes to disorganization, some people stand so far back that they become overwhelmed. They see a huge insurmountable task, and cannot overcome it. As an outsider, I am able to look at the pile of junk with fresh eyes, break it down into categories, and come up with simple steps to getting it cleaned up. In order to get it organized we zoom in on each leaf one at a time, never forgetting that it’s part of a tree. In other words, we think about each item individually, then figure out how it fits into the rest of the room, and the rest of our life. If it doesn’t fit, maybe it belongs somewhere else. With a fresh perspective, everything is easier. Figure out how to refresh your own perspective and experience the benefits for yourself.
It can be stressful to come home after a trip, annoying to have to focus on details again after remembering what it means to be alive. When you get home after a vacation, even if you only have time for a quick excursion, pay close attention to what you dread about coming home. Your stress is an important clue about what may no longer belong in your life.
I am in a small town called Uzés in the south of France! At the moment I am sitting in a charming courtyard surrounded by old stone walls. The French pigeons are cooing and old jazz is wafting out of an open window. Like the jazz, everything here is old. Coming from the United States it’s almost unfathomable that the spaces we inhabit could be so extremely old. We find it charming, enchanting when we first encounter the oldness, but in a town called Uzés, you start getting used to it. Today we drove 20 minutes to see an ancient Roman Aqueduct that makes the medieval house we’re renting seem brand new.
After many trips to Europe I’m confident that recycling space is a powerful thing. There is something special about being in an old house, even when it is in a state of disrepair. This afternoon we wandered through a shop cluttered with rusty old tools and other dirty antiques with our mouths open. It was wonderful. The place was full of treasures, priced accordingly! Meanwhile, I’m constantly shopping for new things, just for the sake of having something new. I’m tired of my old things when I’ve had them for a couple of years. What’s the deal?
Working with clients, I encounter new and old things regularly. Some people with shopping habits have closet floors and shopping bags full of clothes with the tags still on. Others have every edition of various magazines since 1952. The new stuff is easy. Put it on a hanger and arrange it by color, or donate it to someone in need. The old stuff is more complicated. It carries magic, memories, and value. It also takes up space, gathers dust, and weighs us down if we don’t consider our motives. How do we deal with old stuff? How do we honor the past without getting stuck in it?
Life seems to move slowly in Uzés. After a couple of days I am breathing deeply, catching whiffs of lavender and autumn. Meals last for hours, and there is nothing quite like a long walk. There is nowhere to be, and everything that seemed so important back home has fallen away. I spoke to the owner of a small shop who had once been a high-end fashion editor. Three months ago she picked up and moved her with her husband and dog, leaving her old life behind. As enchanted tourists, this sounds like a dream come true, but is it? Should we leave the fast pace of the developing world behind in favor of a simpler life of leisure and community and creativity? Out with the old, or embrace the old?
Here is my proposition, and it doesn’t require any life changes, or that you even throw away your old magazines. My suggestion is this: rethink your relationship to time. As I sit here surrounded by stone walls I can’t tell what was built when. I doubt that anyone still lives here who knows which house was built first, which was built from the ruins of an even older one, and which was built ten years ago to imitate the style of older houses. I don’t really know how old – or new – anything is. There is a sense of timelessness hovering here, and it’s exactly what we need. Timelessness is what helps things fall away, both past and future. My attention is on the present moment, on my surroundings. On a delicious glass of wine and that slow drifting jazz.