It has been one heckuva summer in the Sorrell house. At the very beginning of June, we met with our realtor to talk about maybe possibly putting our house up for sale sometime in the indefinite future. We have been wanting to move closer to everyone’s work. Our realtor told us if we wanted it to sell this summer, we needed to list it before the end of June. As you can imagine, we went into instant de-cluttering/repairing/preparing the house mode. Much of our summer has involved the house situation, from meetings with our realtor to keeping the house clean for viewings to searching for a new house to move into.
On top of that, Steven had basketball practice and camp for several weeks, all four of us were involved with a week-long kids’ theater camp, I presented at a week-long EL Summer Institute, and I went to MN for a writing workshop. We did manage to do a couple of hikes, visit a water park, visit Steven’s parents, and go watch some fun movies. But for the most part, there wasn’t a ton of down time this summer. And I started back to work today.
Knowing that the beginning of the school year is also very busy, I am seeking to find small ways to make sure I can personally maintain some level of inner peace, and that I can help my family do the same. My trip to the Collegeville Institute in MN was truly a sanctuary – a place of quiet, fellowship, and relaxed learning – away from my overbooked summer. I will be writing more about the writing workshop there, but for this post, I want to consider how my week there helped me treasure silence.
We had the mornings open to write, exercise, explore the campus, sleep, etc. On my first morning there I decided to hike one of the two trails on campus. This trail went around a lake and ended at a little chapel called the Stella Maris, or star of the sea. As always, I enjoyed my time in the forest, and it was lovely to end my walk at a chapel. A couple of days later I tried the second trail, which was much wetter, but included a variety of landscapes: wetland, field, and forest. Both days, I returned from my hike a bit tired but emotionally rejuvenated. The silence, the movement, and the natural environment had done my heart good.
Each day our workshop leader had us take 5 minutes of silence mid-afternoon. He had a small gong that he rang to begin the period, and we all just sat at our chairs around the table and didn’t speak. Some of us closed our eyes. I tried to still my thoughts. On the first day, I fidgeted around in my chair during those 5 minutes. By the last day, I thought they’d flown by way too fast.
On our last evening together, we ate dinner in a retreat house that included a prayer room that was very similar to a yurt. It was round with a cone-shaped ceiling with cushions on the floor and chairs around the perimeter. In the center of the room was a circular sand table for candles. Our workshop leader told us we’d do 20 minutes of silence this time. I sat on a cushion beside the wall and closed my eyes when he rang the gong. I thought about my week there, my new friends, my fresh ideas for poems. I prayed the Jesus prayer and wished I had a knotted prayer rope. I thought about my family. Eventually, I settled into the silence and just breathed.
When the 20 minutes were over, I didn’t want to open my eyes. I didn’t want to leave that state of silence. It had been good for my soul. As we all stood up quietly to leave, I noticed that there were four Orthodox icons in the room – one in each cardinal direction. I was pleased and surprised to see something recognizable from my own spiritual tradition. I quickly venerated each icon and left the prayer room, squinting as I re-entered the sunlight outside. We enjoyed a dinner together and then gathered in a big living room and read poetry to each other.
I realize that I can’t turn my entire life upside down in order to find stillness, silence, and peace. But maybe I can make some very small changes. First, instead of listening to the radio during my commute to/from work, I am going to listen to podcasts. The first podcast I downloaded was On Being with Krista Tippett. Just last week she interviewed poet Elizabeth Alexander, so I’m pretty much already hooked! No, this isn’t silence, but it’s also not filling the silence with random radio noise. I spend most mornings flipping from channel to channel during my commute. So at least this will help me use that time more meaningfully.
I am also going to attempt 5 minutes of silent meditation/prayer each morning before I leave the house. I also want to continue to take walks and hikes periodically, because I think experiencing silence out in nature is important, too.
I am wondering if it might be good for me to have some quick down time right after work as well. When the kids and I get home I immediately go into Mom mode: help with homework, sign school folders, start dinner, unload the dishwasher, etc. I know this is a stressful part of the day for me, especially if I’ve got to do something for work that evening on top of regular chores. Maybe allowing myself and the kids 10-15 minutes of “relax time” right when we get home could be a new tradition this year. Might be a good moment for a cup of hot tea.
How do you find time for stillness and silence in your life?