Silence

For months, I’ve been drafting this post. I’ve been writing, rewriting, deleting, copying, editing, pasting. Reading, re-reading. Starting again.

For months, the idea of writing about silence crossed my mind. I took notes, wrote down ideas, key words, reflections. For months, while trying to write about silence I ended up experiencing it in various forms, and realized that translating the silence I wanted to talk about into words would be harder, waaaay harder, than feeling it.

Silence (noun): Quietness, quiet, quietude, still, stillness, hush, tranquility, noiselessness, soundlessness, peacefulness, peace (and quite).

I first thought about it in early February. Thanks to my amazing Argentine family, I spent a few days in Aconcagua National Park, surrounded by impressive mountains and under the eyes of Americas’ highest peak. In three days, I hiked from 1,000m above sea level to 4,200m. I felt my heart speed, my breath fail, the lack of oxygen, my legs became heavier, my mind played tricks with me. I also felt the power of nature, of the wind blowing in my face, of the cold when the sun hid behind the mountains or when it set allowing the stars to shine. Silence there was given.

Then, in April I joined a ten-days meditation retreat also near mountains, miles and miles away from the Argentine-Chilean border, across the Atlantic, during my first ever visit to the Mother continent. There, amid 8-12 hours of daily meditation, noble silence was a rule. I felt my heart speed, my breath fail, gross sensations all over my body, my mind playing tricks. But just like in February, I also felt the power of nature, I watched the sun rise and set, I crossed paths with an enormous tortoise, I heard crickets, beetles, frogs, flies, sounds of life in various forms and sizes.

These two experiences were different and similar at the same time. They were both physically exhausting and mentally challenging.

Do I have the strength to take one more step? Will my body just collapse because I can’t breath? Are we there yet? I can’t feel my legs, my back hurts, this sitting position is extremely uncomfortable, I can’t hold it longer. Is the hour over, can I open my eyes yet?

Although the body was the first to complain, the mind was the real challenge. Because even when everything around is quiet, and still, and apparently calm, the mind can throw crazy parties in your head. That’s the real challenge when it comes to silence. The silence of the mind.

Mind, that thing that is always going from one idea to the other, covering distances as if they didn’t exist, putting together thoughts and memories, analyzing, judging, planning, strategizing. However, if it wasn’t for the power of the mind, I would have easily turned back, missing the astonishing view of the Aconcagua from Plaza Francia or the unexplainable feeling of sitting still for hours acknowledging the sensations in my body that I didn’t even know existed.

The months that followed these experiences were also filled with silence. Words not written nor spoken, ideas that populated my mind but never left the safe space of my own thoughts. They were months of reflection, of digesting the feelings, sensations, and thoughts that crossed and keep crossing my mind.

During these months, I acknowledged that  silence is not necessarily the absence of sound. That it is quietude, stillness, tranquility, calmness. That it can take many forms, sometimes peaceful, sometimes anguished. From trekking in the Aconguagua, joining a meditation retreat to life in general, one can experience silence in many difference ways.

Sometimes I get into, what my friends call and I agree, my “Turtle Mode”. It’s basically when I withdraw myself from social interactions like a turtle withdraws from its surroundings by getting into its shell. In my case, it can happen when I don’t feel like going out and meeting people or even in the middle of a party or social event when I make my way to a quiet corner and stand there watching others, enjoying myself and my own silence, inside my imaginary shell. It doesn’t mean I’m not having fun or enjoying myself, it only means I am having fun while enjoying my silence.

It took me years to understand that I need my turtle mode. That this is actually my body and mind saying to me that silence is, for me at least, a basic need.

More recently, I was spending time with a group of friends, we had a full schedule with plenty of group activities and lots of socializing. Instead of listening to my self I kept going, I followed the schedule, I introduced myself to new people, kept conversations going, until I noticed I was becoming grumpy and even harsh towards those closer to me. After giving some thought, I realized I didn’t get into my turtle mode not even for five minutes during that period. Not respecting my need for silence almost ruined some of the most important relationships I have built over the years.

I realized that in order to respect myself and others around me silence is crucial. I don’t need to be up in the mountains or in a meditation retreat. I need silence to be able to listen to myself, to my mind, to my heart.

Silence is one of the few certainties I have in life. You should try to experience it too, it could change yours.

Want to experience silence in a “structured” way?

  • Aconcagua trekking: get in touch with Inka, they have an amazing team and the best infrastructure to explore the region.
  • Meditation retreat: there are plenty of retreats worldwide. If you want to learn more about Vipassana meditation, have a look at the website and find the location and dates that work better for you.