Silence

I wasn’t blogging last week because I was here.

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Sometimes life gets so full of noise that you can’t hear yourself, God, or anyone else. So last weekend, I did something I’d wanted to try for several years: a weekend retreat at a monastery.

I didn’t exactly plan on a silent retreat, and while the atmosphere wasn’t strictly silent for the four days I was there, talking/noise was definitely at a minimum, especially compared to what I’m used to here in the hectic, hyper-connected Silicon Valley.

At first the silence was challenging and awkward, especially when I realized the nuns and guests weren’t supposed to talk during mealtimes. There was a lot of chewing and silverware clinking. And the refrigerator droning.

But over that first hill of awkwardness, silence can be…amazing.

First all the yucky stuff from inside comes up; all the excess noise and stuffed-away thoughts. But then, like the calm that comes after a long, hard hike, better things begin to well up. Things like a quiet knowledge of the closeness of God. A sense of what’s right to do next in your life. And creativity. Lots of creativity.

You start to notice, really see, what’s around you—like the way morning dew condenses on pine needles and turns them silver.

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Or the way a clump of sun-rushed leaves looks like a bloom of butterflies.

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For the first time in a REALLY long time, I even stepped away from my camera shutter button and tried sketching some flowers by hand from the monastery garden. Unlike Ellie in my novel, I don’t have a natural talent for drawing, and I lack the patience to really practice and learn, but when you sketch a flower, you’re really forced to look at it and notice its details. You have to stop and sit with it, and teach your pencil to mimic its wild curves and shadows. In the absence of Photoshop, you notice the imperfections of real things in nature. But you also marvel at their complexity and wonder.

Monastery Sketch-Briar Rose

Silence doesn’t happen by accident, and it can be a costly challenge to flee from noise and face the first wave of unpleasant thoughts. But…beyond that…

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…silence can be truly breathtaking.