Sunday, October 5, 2014
The Capacity for Silence
Back from a day’s silent retreat at the Green Gulch Zen temple and farm, I’m full of quiet wisdom. I’ve come back not with the silence itself, which is hard come-by in our obstreperous world, but the capacity for silence (as my father wrote about never losing the capacity for happiness, however unhappy we might be). This is the richer gift, I see. The key to that place inside myself I can return to, over and over, at need; where I can hear birdsong, or twigs falling onto the canvas of the yurt, where I can hear my heart expressing gratitude over a simple handful of October flowers, the hard wood (Eucalyptus) and the soft wood (pine) ready for our first-morning fire should we need one, the taste of peppermint tea made with two teabags.
The capacity for brilliant yellow, too—the walls of the old wooden laundry room, open at both ends. Inside humming with clean clothes tumbling in a row of dryers, outside colored the most intense and radiant yellow, from (I’m guessing) lichens or pollens collecting on the wood over the years. Accumulating yellow: a good way to live. (And like my favorite painter, Pierre Bonnard, who used to go back and add yellow to his finished paintings, sometimes years later.)
In the silence I learned I need to listen to my heart, foremost. I walked out to the ocean with the others, because my bad knee didn’t let me walk that far the last time I was there, so my mind told me I needed to make up for that. It told me I like the walk, and the ocean. All of that true, but what I really wanted, above all, was to sit the whole while in the garden, which I don’t just like, but love. The beach was terribly crowded, with people happily engaged in their noisy business, and though that taught me an important lesson once before—that I don’t need to be a part of that, that I can maintain my silence and just observe (something I do naturally anyway)—it wasn’t what my heart needed. Not then. So I walked quickly back to the garden, and spent a precious ten minutes just being there, with end-of-summer roses, lichen-ey old wooden trellises, my favorite apple tree in all the world, a couple and dog on the grass, the play of sunlight and late-afternoon early-October shadow just perfect by then, the silence absolute—except for my heart’s exclaiming its utter delight.
Another of the members of our group had said at introduction time that he had recently decided to quit work, to work on opening his heart. Meaning that going on working was led by mind, and trying something else important for heart. I know I need to do that too—live that yellow!—and maybe some day soon will find the courage to do so. To know that following my heart is the right thing to do. Not willful or unwise (as I’ve been gravely taught over the years), but essential. The wise course born of silence.
image: Stairs at Le Cannet, Pierre Bonnard