silence photo

 

In emails from friends, in blog posts, in discussions over tea, more and more often lately I’m noticing certain words:

Stillness

Silence

Solitude

 

In poetry and books of prose, in conversations at the grocery store, in magazines, there they are again:

Stillness

Silence

Solitude

 

Is it just that I happen to notice these particular words? Is it because they all begin with S, and I love alliteration? Or are these words slowly becoming more important in all our thoughts?

 

Are we becoming more aware of our lack of spaces for emptiness and quiet? Am I hearing appeals for, longings for, these simple states of being?

 

Here’s what I think: There is a STILLNESS that is different from silence. This stillness is a quieting of the mind and the body in the midst of mental chatter and bustling schedules. This stillness is refreshing.

 

The SILENCE we seek is the absence of human-made sounds, those produced by electronic devices or motorized vehicles or even sounds spoken or sung. We long for vibrations made by nature, like bird calls and wind through pines, rainfall and river song, bumble bees and hummingbird flight.

 

I understand SOLITUDE as that sort of being alone that is not lonely, but filled with the opportunity to listen for the whisper of the Divine. Solitude is a rest from interacting with others, a celebration of sabbath not because it’s required but because it nourishes.

 

Yesterday I received an email from a friend who has arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, after a month as a pilgrim walking the Camino de Santiago. Sadly, the Camino has become such a popular “vacation destination” that there was little sense of solitude about it for her. She writes, “It seems that the longer I am gone the more I become protective of my private spaces.” Even in the midst of a “pilgrimage” she hungers for more solitude and stillness and silence.

 

A few weeks ago a friend and I rented a cottage for a three-day writing retreat. We decided to do no cooking, just snack when we felt like it. We brought crackers, peanut butter, string cheese, apples, granola, and bananas. We each claimed a corner of the common space for our writing, spending hours in stillness and silence. For long stretches of time we were either unaware of each other, or present in a nonintrusive way. It was a delicious, creative, and nourishing time.

 

As I’ve been pondering them, I realize that stillness, silence, and solitude are opportunities that come with a privileged life. For people who are wage-earners, those who have children to raise or loved ones to care for, those who don’t have the luxury of disappearing from their daily routines, some of their most creative work may be finding a fragment of time here or there in which to experience such gifts. (I remember when, as a young mother with three children under the age of four, the most creative thing I could do to nourish my soul was to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes and just breathe!)

 

I grieve for the millions of people crammed into crowded refugee camps and tenements and homeless shelters, who are denied even a moment of the blessings of stillness, silence, and solitude.

 

I don’t have any conclusions to draw from these thoughts. I have only the certainty that these gifts are profoundly precious, and I commit myself to appreciating as much of each of them as my days can hold.

14 replies
  1. Corrine Bayley
    Corrine Bayley says:

    I have another “S” to add to the mix: Sabbath. Your blog caused me to retrieve a book on my shelf by that name, read long ago. The author, Wayne Muller, explores the practice of setting aside a time — day, hour, moment — to experience the sacred tradition of rest. For the past year, I’ve had one day a week on my calendar marked sabbath. When I’m successful, there are no emails, appointments, or other intrusions on a day of delicious stillness, silence, and solitude. I know it’s a privilege, and I’m grateful for the concept of tonglen, Cynthia. I will add it to my practice.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Trowbridge
    Cynthia Trowbridge says:

    Silence, Stillness and Solitude were my companions one long and stormy winter on the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland. It was the gift I had been seeking since finishing college. Ten miles down a one track road, I experienced the darkest and the starriest of nights as well as the shortest of days. I savored the spaciousness of my days and nights and came to know and accept myself.
    I sometimes return to that spaciousness during silent meditation retreats.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Now I feel as if I, too, have experienced those dark, starry nights! Thanks for sharing that image, and the stillness, silence, and solitude that come with it. Love from “the other” Cynthia.

      Reply
  3. Janice O'Mahony
    Janice O'Mahony says:

    Your post has been very thought-provoking for me. I wonder if at some point you could explore further, going to the frontier between solitude and loneliness. Where is the demarcation?

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Well, that question, I believe, calls for yet another pot of tea, shared in thoughtfulness. Perhaps pondering “the frontier between solitude and loneliness” will energize a future blog post! Thanks so much for a wonderful wondering.

      Reply
  4. Charmaine Kulczyk
    Charmaine Kulczyk says:

    The three “S’s”increase in value with the passing of days, the chapters of our life story. One gift of many that comes from this is how deeply we remain connected to those who walked into our lives and took up residence within the community room of our hearts. I have such profound gratitude for the wisdom to recognize when I must search for a place within or away from my environment for the sacred space of “S” – Thank you for your gift of words. Much love across time and space Cynthia.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Sometimes that “community room of our heart” can get pretty crowded, can’t it? That space is made sacred by their presence . . . and sometimes I need to find a space with no other occupants, to experience who I am apart from anyone else. I have become who I am through interactions with each of the others throughout my life; but who, exactly, is the “I” who has become me, now? Blessings on your many interior Journeys, Charm’.

      Reply
  5. Yvonne Palka
    Yvonne Palka says:

    I couldn’t agree more Cynthia. These states of these three words are indeed to be treasured. Blessings, Yvonne

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      I think that’s part of our “assignment” that comes with our privilege – to truly treasure our blessings. Thanks for sending yours!

      Reply
  6. Ann Medlock
    Ann Medlock says:

    You helped me remember locking the bathroom door only to have my son knocking on said door relentlessly. And worse–in an initiation-to-meditation ceremony, he bounced a ball against the door. Over and over and…I just cried.

    In Manhattan, there were constant sirens, horns, and the clanking of manhole covers. I didn’t know how much energy went into not hearing them until I came here and was astonished by their absence.

    Now, I live almost entirely with those sounds of wind, rain, owls, coyotes. When a plane flies over I’m startled, and wonder why the pilots don’t realize that their joy-riding is not a joy to those who must hear them.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      We live a privileged life, indeed. I do try to practice tonglen, from this privileged space, letting in thoughts of how it must be to have NO silence or stillness or solitude, holding that thought for just a moment to add a dash of silence/stillness/solitude, and then breathing it out again, hoping to shift the balance of the world just a little. Thanks for your stories of what happens on the OTHER side of that bathroom door!

      Reply
  7. Susanne Fest
    Susanne Fest says:

    These three words resonate with me as well, Cynthia. I, too, have come to view the experience with these words as privilege. Stillness is wonderful– especially when I can achieve inner stillness in the midst of turbulence around me. Silence of nature I experience as soothing, even when it is filled with bird calls or the sound of waves. I am guessing that silence to me means the absence of human voices and manmade sounds. Solitude I experience as a good connection with myself, and curiously, for that to happen I need the interaction with certain environmental and internal conditions to be right. For example, I know that I have been able to experience solitude in the midst of a full metro ride in NYC, while it has eluded me sitting on a beach, all by myself. The mystery of it all. Despite my desire to know I am a strong defender of not knowing. Thanks for your pensive and thought provoking post.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Sounds as if there is a pretty wonderful conversation brewing here – or maybe several! Perhaps a pot of tea brewing in our future as well? Thanks for your thoughts.

      Reply

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