listening below the noise- part 1 of the journey to reframing, renaming, and reclaiming a life

Last evening, I read a book, cover to cover, about the transformative power of silence. ‘Listening Below the Noise’ was written by a woman who heard the words ‘sit in silence’ in one of those disembodied voice moments, and so began a 17 year long odyssey into it. Every first and third Monday of each month, she has dedicated 24 hours to silence, no matter the season nor sundry external influences.

Surprisingly, hers was not undertaken as a spiritual practice, at least the author did not name it as such at first, though it ended there, of course. My own journey into silence began from ‘the other end’, as a spiritual quest for healing, for love, for God. I realize that, perhaps once I found it (the healing, love, God part), I abandoned my own vigilance of the practice, as the utter despair that drove me into its arms abated. Like a love affair that slides into placidity, where inattentiveness leads to forgetfulness, I lost my passion for the practice. Perhaps then this explains the sense of losing my self, which I’ve been experiencing.

I’ve known for some time, of course, that I’ve lost my space. It happened so gradually, so insidiously nibbled away at like so many other unattended things, that I didn’t notice until, all at once one day, it was gone.

All those years ago, during those healing times, my pain had carved and guarded that space. It had forged a small opening at first during early morning hours at the chapel and wee morning hours at my writing desk. When the kids were in school, my work schedule allowed for several days a week, home alone, and the space grew bigger. When I married a few years later and my need to work outside the home was relieved, the space expanded greatly. For 2 years, I had 9 months of weekdays, 7 hours a day to myself. These were the years when the autumn became such a metaphor of return to me. Along with the geese, the groundhogs, and the trees, I was relieved of the nest for at least a few hours, freed from constant production of shelter and fruit, given permission to go turn inward, to go underground, to rest and rejuvenate.

Then, when my daughter graduated from high school, that space began to contract. Hers has been a difficult fledgling – home for six months, then out for 4, back home for 4 then out for 11, home for 6, then back out for 30, home for 6, back out again now. More so than that particular back-and-forth, however, was the perpetual back-and-forth of countless phone calls per day. With the advent of the cell phone between my oldest child’s fledgling and this one’s, I was far too accessible. This time my not-working-outside-the-home closed in my space drastically. Her cellphone calls, along with her difficulties out there, grew exponentially. I imagine my accessibility was as harmful to her as it was to me, teaching neither of us to trust. As a result, I felt as if I was sent into a perpetual summer. My days, my silence, my focus became even more extraverted and fragmented, and, in the course, I lost something very valuable, buried again beneath the noise, the chaos, the rubble.

I’ve frequently expressed this sense of loss to my husband, tried to explain to him what I was feeling, how my creative self was being buried alive. He didn’t completely understand why it was that I required lengths of uninterrupted quiet in order to have the time to go down to retrieve those jewels, nor how it was that with so many interruptions demanding me to surface, I could never quite reach them, nor why after time I stopped diving.

And so, the internet became a distraction, and like all good distractions from pain, an addiction, supplying a virtual sense of connection, temporarily alleviatng my yearning for a real one. No longer looking within for the treasure, the searches became external, following one bunny trail after another. One ironic benefit of my newly retired husband’s being home all day is that he takes the computer for hours on end!, blessedly forcing me to withdraw, and to reenter the sacred realms of my soul.

What this book offered was affirmation of my need to go there. What it also provided was a way of reframing my old friend, silence, as an intentionally chosen and boundaried space. I realize that boundaries are so vital right now to the regaining and renaming of myself. Boundaries are what a virgin innately has –even physically this is so with the placement of the hymen over her opening – and what a mother has not. All sense of separation between self and other is blurred in motherhood. When the child wakes, you are awake, when the child needs to eat, you make food. Reorganizing myself again during this next stage of life requires redrawing the lines… 32 years and five children have etched those lines fairly deep. But no longer is my shape to be drawn by the needs and demands of another. No longer is my focus to be diffuse, my life-giving energy to be funneled into another for fuel.

Silence, solitude, space – the 3 S’s have been the great themes of my writing over these past several years. It seems I do have a right to proclaim my need for all three. Though it was difficult at times for the author of the book to stand by her own resolve, it proved to be of such great value, a value she could not begin to foresee when she began her journey. Perhaps it was a pearl of great price, for I suspect that the fourth S is sacrifice. Something must be relinquished in order to make that space.

Perhaps the first thing to go is my ego. Like the author, who realized how much she had been living from hers, as she heard the echo of her unuttered words and realized how often she had spoken out of her false self – responding with ‘fixing’ words, sharing her ‘wisdom’, controlling fallout and judgments, believing in the urgency of her immediate response – I too realize that much of what holds me is the false belief that I am necessary for another’s survival.

As I ponder my own sense of calling, my own voice’s message seems to be speaking not the words ‘sit in silence’ per say, but something more along the lines of ‘retreat to the woods’. I wonder as I write this if, as the call to silence of the last decade for me began in a place of pain and led to a place of gift, this call to retreat (which, like silencing, has its own dual meanings, including one that connotes surrender) might also lead to unknown gifts. This profound sense of call to a place of retreat in the forest to create a house of healing may be as much for myself, I suspect, as for those who might come to stay.

There are other clear similarities between the author’s call and my own. Clear-cut boundaries, for one. Action that is counter to what the culture tells me is normal or even right for another. (My desire may seem eccentric to some, but Clarissa reminds me that my eccentricities are where my gifts lie). Other resonances between her call and my own – it being misunderstood, its necessity for a creative life, its need for solitude, for time, for inaccessibility, the need to let go of the desire to control, to fix, to care take, to manage what others think or how they judge, its soul-saving elements, and its trusting in what my instincts are telling me.

What are my instincts telling me?

Are instincts related to desires?

Can I begin to name this as a calling rather than a yearning?

How does that change it, give it more power or credence, for me?

Years ago I did indeed have my own disembodied voice dream, words given to me that woke me from my sleep. ‘You are bound to beauty’.

Practically speaking, how exactly does one live into the call of “being bound to beauty”? I have imagined it in so many ways through the years…

  • seeking and seeing Beauty as a way of prayer,
  • choosing to live in a place- – metaphorically or literally—of great Beauty,
  • noticing Beauty,
  • naming Beauty,
  • creating Beauty,
  • capturing Beauty for others to see,
  • Being Beauty.

Mostly I have not imagined it as a call at all but rather a naming of ‘what is’, a calling me back to the truth that my life –that Life itself– is inescapably Beautiful.

No, I’m not exactly sure that I’ve fully lived into that calling. Perhaps I set it aside along with the 3 S’s. Perhaps living into it is a perpetual process. And perhaps it has been at work in me beneath my awareness all this time. This morning when I looked in the mirror, after taking down my braid, I saw beauty there that I haven’t for such a long time. So much transformation is taking place in my life right now, so much new awareness, so much revelation. It seems to be coming in great waves, as does the labor of all birthings.

I am being formed into something new.

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