I’ve tried to consider what seeds grew to grow the lush vine of Silent Sundays. There are many. Let me recount the most recent. Following an energy-intense workshop I’d facilitated the day prior, my voice was strained and I was flattened on the sofa. The morning was spent moaning about exhaustion – physically, mentally, and emotionally. For as long as I could recall my diary looked as chaotic as Time Square; alarms beeping, reminders flashing, and colour coded to accommodate the dozen different areas of the world I was micro-managing. ‘Recovery Day’ had been typed in my electronic-brain, having realised that the facilitation of a large group took it out of me, literally. I had historically been a waste of space after these events, ironically the workshops were all about the art of mindfulness!? My habit had been to lie flat for parts of the day, but continue to engage in the familiar family antics.
Planning for the week, grocery shopping, lazy scroll through social media trying to figure out what the rest of the world was doing, afternoon latte with in-laws, cleaning neglected parts of the house with a cursory resentful wipe, maybe even collapsing into the fog of movie-junk-food-escape.
Monday would arrive and I’d drag my ass into the week somewhere between grateful-tired or, worse, tired-wired. Rock and repeat this, and we have the recipe for burnout folks.
When listening to a podcast on Sustainability, I hear of a major international IT company who have a No Exceptions rule on Tuesday afternoons. A lock-out time where their management have four hours of non-contact. No face-to-face meetings, no Wi-Fi or devices; pen and paper only. Their surveys demonstrated that their staff had time to contemplate, consider, reflect, and relax. Wednesday morning was filled with reports of creative bursts, new ideas, ‘Ahh Ha’ moments, and a gathering of Self that fed into being more focussed and present on their job.
In another venture through one of the many articles on device usage (damaging our brains and hormonal balance), I read a story about some of the Microsoft developers who flit off the grid for an entire week fairly regularly so they can rest and revive themselves, returning sharper and ever more productive.
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer is an audiobook in which he describes his fascination with Cat Stevens (1970s’ music superstar) who withdrew from life, selling all his possessions to retreat into years of solitude, re-emerging as Yusuf Islam. When I first heard this, years ago, I thought he was irresponsible, vagrant, wasting a life. Second time around I found it a profound concept. Except, you know, I have children, a husband, and a dog who would wonder where I’d gone, and “Cat Stevens did it” was never going to cut the mustard...besides I’ve always looked vile in orange, and those robes do nothing for a short person. I’d look like an orange ghost. The fabric would drag on the floor, and they’d kick me out of the monastery for shuffling. I’ve played through a number of scenarios...
I’ve had numerous friends over the years share their Vipassana stories with me. Vipassana is an ancient silent meditation practice that focusses on observation of the mind and body. As one develops this discipline, one is apparently able to dissolve the mental muddiness we inherently have as human beings, the outcome of which is a balanced mind and body filled with kindness and compassion. I remember a dear friend texting me once from her Vipassana retreat about all the things that we would roll out upon her return. She was in full planning mode on her expensive overseas retreat. I replied, as only a dear friend can get away with, by rubbing it in, saying something akin to “Yeah, let’s do all of that and hey, man, I’m pretty sure your silent retreat means you need to get off your bloody phone!” I recall thinking that even when people pay thousands of dollars to hang out with others who are in a sacred practice, we are indeed human. I think if you get told off generally it’s embarrassing, but getting scolded by a righteous-quiet person who madly ssshhhhhhhhes you would be mortifying.
One of my clients asked me recently if I would ever swan off to a Monastery, make like a monk (or Cat Stevens), and come back with a new name... and an album or world tour?! My response: “How could I go anywhere without my babies and Mr Husband?” Even if we all want to sell the unnecessary and roam the world with the wanderlust that exists beneath the surface, I have always said that mastery to me is not retreating from the world, into the mountains, posing philosophical questions: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
I’m convinced that our mastery is figuring out how to be in a world that continues to flow. How can we find ourselves as if sitting in the middle of Times Square in New York, and be peaceful, calm, focussed, present, and balanced in mind and body?
The penny finally dropped and Silent Sundays began...
Words by KeiShana Coursey
Image by Kelly Dorgan https://www.instagram.com/molly_whuppie/?hl=en