Lesson 6: Silence
It’s a well-known tale in my family: how my grandmother—a mother of seven children—was taken to a nursing home because she kept hearing her children’s voices in her head. All day long, day in day out, they would call to her: ‘Mam, Mom, Maham, Mama!!’ She got to the point where she was no longer able to silence these voices, and thus the nursing home… It was only when she was far away from her family, in the east of the country, among the pine trees and chirruping birds, that my grandmother was able to regain the silence in her head.
Now, years later, I am able to understand her situation more and more. Even though I don’t have half the amount of children as her, I also hear my kid’s voices—from early morning until late at night: ‘Mom, can you call school and let them know I’ll be in late—I need to go to the orthodontist!’; ‘Mom, did you wash my gym shirt?’; ‘Maham, what’s for dinner?’; ‘Mom, can you test me on my German?’ So from the moment our mindfulness teacher announced that the eight-week course also included a ‘silent afternoon’, I became very excited and couldn’t wait for it to come round. I noted it down in my diary with large letters. Silence for a whole afternoon, from 1.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.! That seemed like such a delightful prospect. And the fact that I needn’t make any contact with anyone during those hours felt, quite frankly, to be incredibly liberating. I was so looking forward to it, and I was curious as to what it would bring me.
Unfortunately, however, my silent afternoon didn’t happen as I had hoped. My mother had phoned me to let me know that my dad had been taken to hospital. All of a sudden, I felt a different kind of silence crawl inside me. A serious silence in which I realized, once again, that things can change and life can become very different in a split second. In the more than two hours it took me to drive to my parents, I had ample opportunity to be quiet. I was alone and I drove the same route I had driven so many times before. I thought of the mountain meditation that we had done the night before during the mindfulness lesson, in which you have to imagine you are a mountain and your sides are plagued by wind, snow, hail and rain. But that, after a while, the sun will shine again and then flowers will bloom on the same mountainside. This meditation suddenly seemed very appropriate to my current situation—that no matter what happens, the sun will eventually come out again (thankfully, my father was able to go back home the following day).
On the way back home, in my quiet car, I realized that silence is also not everything. I suddenly longed for the chaos of my family, to be surrounded by my children telling me all their stories. Silence, I thought, mainly has its value when it is alternated with noise.
Alice is General Managing Editor of Flow International and the Flow Specials.