I recently attended a retreat at Peace Village, a learning and retreat center in the state of New York, and one of the activities we had to do was to have a meal in silence and continue in silence for few hours after that. When I learned about this activity, I got curious to see how I would react to it, how I would feel, and how I would respond to be silent for an amount of time I was not accustomed to.
Living in a city I rarely have the chance to experience silence for long periods of time, especially when there are people around.
The first thing I noticed as we all walked into the dining hall and stood in line to get our lunch was how sensitive my ears suddenly had become to noise. Sounds that usually would have passed unnoticed seem to come to full attention. The sound made by the touch of a fork on a plate and the drag of a chair on the floor were exponentially being projected to what seems a much higher level.
Then, in the middle of the dining hall, a woman started to play a harp. I realized at that moment that there will be no silence around us; we just had to be silent while eating. The soft and relaxing music was very conducive to having a quiet and silent meal however. As I sat down and started to eat my lunch, the sound of the harp became a white noise masking any other sound around me. I looked around and as expected, I see people eating and drinking, but then I noticed that a lot of them were also looking out the windows or staring at a distant point.
Although there was no silence around, the fact that we were not allowed to talk instinctively made the eyes of most of us wander.
Another thing I noticed was that I was eating slower. I tend to eat fast even when allowed to talk or eating alone at home. The simple fact that I had to be consciously silent made me pay attention to the food I was eating, and that naturally slowed me down.
After finishing lunch I went for a walk around the lake and the grounds of Peace Village‘s facility; then I went back to my room and sat quietly in the balcony reading for about 30 minutes. Once I was done reading I tried to listen to the silence. Peace Village is a very quiet and relaxing place and you literally don’t hear anything but nature around. As I sat down contemplating the view from my balcony, thoughts and feelings kept on coming and going through my head. It felt as if the quietness I was experiencing gave room to a variety of activities in my mind.
The thoughts eventually subsidized and the silence brought me a sense of calm and tranquility. That’s when I realized all the things the silence made me experience. The things silence knows. So I decided to write down all the things that came to my mind when I think about the silence.
The silence made me feel quiet, centered, stress free, and calm. The silence around me was allowing me to experience freedom. That’s when I remembered the lyrics of a Shara Nelson song called “What Silence Knows” from her album with the same name
I wanna know what silence knows
So I can understand
What it takes to be really free…”