short and quick

Just a note of re-entry to mark the end of my two-day retreat offline.

My kneejerk note would be something like, “It was tremendous.” And in moments, it was! In other moments it was boring. In fewer moments than I expected, it was anxious. In many fewer moments than I expected, it was insightful. Mostly, it just was.

When you go out to watch stars at night, you have to watch for at least half an hour before light leaves your eyes and they become accommodated to the dark and you can see the fainter stars. In a way, my experience was like this: it took almost a whole day before the cacophony left my mind and I could find any silence, at all. I spent the first day in complete silence, but my mind was full of sound — songs (mainly LP), something that almost sounded and felt like radio static, and the voices of people I know. For the first day, my mind was also full of my own narration, of my telling the story of what I was doing as if I were telling you, or writing it. My mind was full of my noticing things to photograph to share. It took a very long time for that to stop happening, and in fact it never really stopped all the way. Implied other, present and accounted for!

And I realized that I had approached my retreat with a specific expectation of enlightenment, that some huge insight was going to happen for me and from then on I would be ever-changed. How silly, and how glad I am to have had the inner space to spot that one lurking in the subterranean churn. Ironically, that was my big enlightenment insight. 🙂 I do this all the time. I initiate these projects with this expectation, and impose the specific insight on myself right from the outset. “I’m going to get it and then I’ll be chill / whatever.” I laughed out loud when I realized this.

Every time I undertake one of these projects, whether it has to do with retreating from noise or watching more closely or going deep in some way, my searching always circles around the same issues, and I gain and lose them, gain and lose them, gain and lose them. I’ve always felt ashamed when I’d lose them again, as if I were a small person, unable to hold big and deep things . . . but I realized that this is the human endeavor. If we just sought and then gained enlightenment (whatever that means, as a word and for us as individuals) in one grab, then the world would work very differently than it actually does. This is the human endeavor.

So on the second day, I didn’t search for anything at all. I didn’t wait for chill / whatever. I just was. I just read. I just drank coffee. I just looked at the trees. I walked a lot, regular four-mile walks over my two days offline. I drank a beer. I actually did finish The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and ended up appreciating it, a lot. I rambled along my creeks. I stopped taking photographs. My experiences were just and only for myself. And I finally stopped narrating myself, and was able to be still in the silence of Heaventree. This felt less like a marvelous transformation, less like an a-ha! insight, and more like just that moment, nothing more.

I’m very glad I did it, and I’m so surprised that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to stay offline. My sense had been that I go online to manage any and all discomfort, as a distraction, but maybe being online produces discomfort. Well, it does. Obviously. It doesn’t just do that, it also allows for connection and happiness, but it does also produce discomfort, especially in this nightmarish Republican world we are trapped in. I’m glad to learn that it wasn’t so hard, and I’m thinking about having regular periods of staying offline. I missed people, I missed knowing how my friends around the world are doing, seeing their pictures, but I didn’t miss the noise, at all. Since I did not feel anxious, I’m left wondering why I go online to manage discomfort. My discomfort was never uncomfortable.

A couple of great things happened while I was away: I learned that our couches will be delivered this Saturday, and I got my NYPL library card, and I don’t know which one I’m more excited about. So Saturday we’ll have furniture and I can arrange an actual living room, and we’ll start painting, and then next Tuesday the new refrigerator will be delivered. The immediate big stuff will all be in place then, and done. And I belong to the NYPL again. SO HAPPY.

a quick note of personal honesty

SO! Last night I slept in the house all alone; Marc went back to the city for three nights, and I’m here car-less and in the silence. I was a little bit afraid but not too much. There are so many second homes up here — lots of people in the city keep a summer home in the mountains — and if anyone had been watching the house, they might’ve thought that the house would be empty. No car in the driveway, after a few weekend days of a car in the driveway, typical summer home appearance. Apparently there were two escaped and violent convicts from Tennessee in this specific area (even spotted on Saturday in Margaretville, the nearest hamlet and where we shop for groceries), I mean this sounds like a movie doesn’t it!

So I left a light on downstairs last night and the fan was whirring in the bedroom window, and I hoped for the best. And of course this morning I woke up unmurdered. 🙂

But my quick note of personal honesty is that I’m so very very glad to be alone in the house for a few days. Marc is so chatty. So chatty. Chat chat chat chat chat. And he’s not a loud talker, more of a mumbler, so it takes a bit of focus to hear him….and he is a slow talker, and he just seamlessly goes from topic to topic in one very long breath until he runs out of air so it’s hard to get a word in, and by the time he stops for a breath the topic has changed a couple of times from what I wanted to say in response to where he started.

There are trailheads all around us — this was a walk to the Lost Clove trailhead after dinner yesterday. It’s just so beautiful I can’t really believe it.

The relief is, of course, that we are in this very large space, two floors and a full basement, and then the glorious outdoors –so it’s not like being in the tiny little apartment in the city, where there is no place to step aside for a moment of solitude. The house is so tightly built, and so well-insulated, that unless we are on the same floor I can’t make out anything he’s saying…..and while I have told him that 2.3K times by now, he just keeps chatting even if I’m on a different floor.

So there is today’s moment of personal honesty, not appropriate for the Heaventree post I’m composing in my mind. So much to share about the early days of living here, both in the area and in this house, but that will be a different post to be written later.

[And in the “good grief, she would complain if she were hung with a new rope” category, the irony is not lost on me that I lived in a kind of despair with my first husband, who almost never spoke, who never shared himself in any real way, and who wasn’t at all affectionate….I never dreamed I would complain about someone talking too much, telling me his thoughts and feelings, and being affectionate! I keep having these moments of awareness during my ear-craving for a bit of silence that he is wanting to share himself and his thoughts with me, and I’m grateful for that. But with just a little bit of silence too. (Please.) (Thank you.)]

a silent report

silenceI wonder why all the images from a search for the word ‘silence’ are black and white (and mostly white). That’s actually very interesting to me and something I want to think about [note to self].

Today marks the first week of my anti-flailing project and it’s been really interesting. There is really just one part to it, but one aspect is having its own repercussions so I’ll talk about them separately: doing one thing at a time, and spending a lot of time in silence.

My efforts to do just one thing at a time, to give all my mindfulness to whatever I’m doing, have been about 90% successful. I’ve noticed that when I’m very tired, my monkey mind appears and just won’t sit still. So I go ahead and just do whatever kind of silly things I want to do, however multi-tasked I want to do them. When I made my meals, I really just made my meals (chop wood, carry water). I tried to enjoy the ingredients, the preparation of them, their beauty, the smells — and then I just ate my dinner and tried to slow down from my usual gobble. Usually I eat and watch The Daily Show or something, but eating in silence and slowly has turned out to be kind of wonderful. It has not been hard to do this, at least in the first week.

During my walk last night I realized that I feel like I’m not getting anything done. And I’m probably not getting as many things done as I used to! That’s probably true. The things I do also take a little longer because I’m trying not to dash through them. But I feel so much calmer (though my sleeping has gotten weird….). I’m breathing better, by which I mean I’m actually breathing. I find I’m walking more slowly, don’t know if that’s related but it feels like it is. I’ve also noticed that my mind gets very tired in a way I’m unfamiliar with — like an unused muscle or something. I’ll be curious to see how this changes. Doing so many things at once, having so much stimulation coming at us all the time as we do these days, surely contributes to a harried feeling. It did for me. Harried and fractured. I’m feeling that a lot less, at least here at the end of the first week. I’m going to keep doing this, I like it a lot.

Silence. OK, this one is the big shocker to me. Doing one thing at a time means not also having music playing in the background. (For me anyway.) When I first moved back to Austin, it was the silence that was so very difficult. I’d never lived alone, there was always someone around, they played music or whatever, lots of sounds. Sitting in the silence then felt like it was going to be my undoing, so I got to work on that.

Now, though, the silence has become rich and beautiful. I love the silence. And I’m so shocked by that, I would’ve bet a dollar to a donut that I couldn’t do it. Yesterday I played some cello very softly in the background while I was working, and I kept lowering the volume and lowering it until it was on mute. It might be playing still, I’ll have to check. I love walking around in my house in the silence. I love sitting and reading in the silence. I love thinking and writing in the silence. And there’s surely no surprise here, but my mind has been thick with ideas. I don’t know if that’s due to the silence, or the mindfulness, or what I’ve been reading (probably a combination), but in the silence I can hear them.

I attended Quaker services when we lived in Virginia and they have meetings for silent worship, no one speaks unless they feel led to do so. And then they sit and the silence settles down again. They do this so they can hear the voice of God, which you can do in silence. Some monks live in silence. I get the power of it and every day I can’t wait for the silence. Isn’t that weird?

And it’s probably a consequence of all this together, but time seems to be moving more slowly. I dig that too. Onward to week two.