Life. Yoga. Joy.
Inspiring a life with smiles...™
For the past week I have been completely immersed in a magical community of yogis at at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA, working towards my 200-hundred hour yoga teacher training (YTT). So many powerful experiences; I am still processing and reflecting. One wonderful moment happened just the other morning. A beautiful yogi named Paris (who gave me permission to use her name) gave me the most nourishing gift...
We live in a connected world. Our phones tell us when to wake, when to sleep, what our health status is, how many friends have liked that status, where to go, what to do, what we were supposed to do, how to do it...and on and on. And the truth is most of the time I fully embrace this connected lifestyle.
When packing for this journey, I was intensely focused on making sure I had phone cords, a backup battery recharger since my iPhone was dying, my computer with its cords, and my headphones. In addition I packed plenty of reading material plus the recommended - but not required - reading, and extra clothing to provide non sweaty quick changes to allow me to try every activity possible. In short, I expected my every waking minute to be jammed packed, whether in my yogi community or alone.
Then, on the first night of our YTT program the instructors told us that the next morning when we awoke, we would be in silence all the way until after breakfast and the start of our 2nd morning session.
To put this into context, our first class begins at 5:50am and ends at 7:45am. Breakfast lasts until 9am, but our second morning session begins at 8:50am with a silent journal reflection. (Breakfast is also a silent affair here at Kripalu.) Being in a room with 20+ women, I wake up at 4:30am for some quiet and deliciously long shower time... So this rule meant 4.5 hours of my day in silence...
Perhaps for some people this meditative silent time would sound like heaven. For me I felt the bands of anxiety start to wrap around my throat. Enforced silence? I felt like I was being robbed of my voice, choked, the room seemed to lack air and space.
Outside of my YTT experience, I spend a lot of time not speaking. Aside from the recent events of training someone, hours could be spent at my job not talking. I commute to work not speaking. I come home and generally the SigO is not there yet. My Fridays are now my own and I spend many hours happily not speaking.
But there is a difference between doing busy activities in silence, and being silently reflective. No one told me during my spare time to be quiet, it was my choice. And really, although I was not speaking, there were plenty of time to be "speaking" with others through emails, social media, my blog, and listening to others through music and podcasts. In short, I may not have been vocalizing, but I wasn't truly being silent. Had I given myself the space in that moment to reflect, I would have realized that this was a rare and special opportunity, and one that was not that difficult for me to participate in with my new supportive community. But in that moment there was no clarity, only fear.
The first morning was awkward, but the true test came when I walked into the cafeteria, saw everyone sitting around quietly looking (to me) like pod people from science fiction stories, and began to feel the walls closing in on me. I felt panic and close to passing out. I stopped moving, found my breath, and walked out of the room with my food. Fortunately, the weather was still a New England Indian summer. So I sat outside and enjoyed a beautiful view over my breakfast. Suddenly I was able to breathe freely.
Over the next couple of days I employed this strategy to cope with the silence. I would go through the morning practice, get my food, and go outside. Then one morning, on the way to breakfast, I ended up walking next to one of my fellow yogis, Paris. She leaned over and whispered "Want to have breakfast with me?" I froze. I knew I couldn't sit in the cafeteria without feeling the walls closing in. So I whispered back, "I'm going outside. Want to eat breakfast with me there?" She nodded.
No judgement my peeps over breaking silence to ask to sit together. Hand gestures make it very difficult to communicate!
I'm rather slow around food. I take my time and really contemplate what I feel like eating. So by the time I had assembled my oatmeal and fruit, my fellow yogi was outside. It had been a misty morning and she had thoughtfully laid out a blanket on the picnic benches. I sat down. We smiled at each other, and then began to eat. My thoughts were racing for a few minutes:
How do I eat with someone in complete silence?
,For the past week, I have been learning about awareness without judgement. So as my thoughts were racing, in the background I tried thinking "Oh that's interesting" and not becoming too attached to the thought. But my mind was whirling and suddenly as the sun was breaking through the clouds, I realized that this anxiety wasn't about silence, it was about power.
In my distant past, I had experienced silence as a weapon, a means of robbing me of my power: "I'm mad at you so I'm not going to talk to you." Or "You should stop talking because I'm not interested in what you say. Your thoughts have no value." Silence was a means of invalidating my voice, and diminishing me as a person. And so since that point, in moments that could be truly silent, I tend to fill the void with another type of talking - quiet activities.
Here I was for the first time just sitting with someone in silence. "Okay,' I thought, 'I can do this." And then my breakfast companion stopped eating and looked out at the view. So I stopped eating and looked out at the view. And suddenly the two of us were sitting there looking out at the view together in perfectly normal and lovely silence. No panic, no expectations, just two friends enjoying the view and the silence.
In our classes we have been learning about our "I" statements, being careful to not state individual feelings in a way that imply a shared experience that others may or may not be having. So I can't tell you how Paris felt sharing breakfast with me. What I can tell you is that I would not have made the overture to ask someone to join me for breakfast in silence on my own. I had been studiously avoiding people, and thinking that I was dealing just beautifully with the enforced silence. But by doing so, I was robbing myself of my own power. I was still holding on to the idea of silence being a weapon. And it can only be a weapon if I allow it be.
So with the most sincerest heart I am sending much gratitude to my lovely breakfast companion. She taught me that silence truly is a time to be mindful, quietly reflect, and share in community. Thank you, Paris, for this gift and teaching.
Namaste my beautiful peeps, may you also find your self, your power, and your truth in silent reflection...with smiles...
Samantha Eve, a