2 Summer’s ago, I slept in a tent, knew when, by the sound of a bell, and settled in for hours, and hours, with my hands resting on my lap. In a room with natural light, and the rise and fall of all of us.
Women on one side, men on the other. 60 of us.
I could tell you all about the woman in front of me, her low pony tail, and the way she sat slightly to the right, I could tell you about the woman next to me, the way she’d extend her right leg, cupping her hands against her knee. And her heavy sigh, and her commitment to stay.
I could tell you about the man somewhere in the middle, who’s nervous tic was one to draw in air, and to create a noise loud enough, and often enough, where I wondered all about his life. How disruptive this noise was, and how he, was at the center of it. I wondered how he could come into a silent room like this, as-is, and know that he’d disrupt the silence again and again. I couldn’t tell if I was in wonder, or rage. I couldn’t tell you.
For hours, we’d sit, and the noise of shifting, and breathing, the noise of the man with the nervous tic, and how collectively we’d all hold our breath, waiting. And then we’d exhale.
A bell would fill the space, a bell under a tree, rang by a person who swung a rope side to side, and I wondered on the first night, would a bell be enough to know? The first night I arrived, and took it all in. Here’s how you’ll know. That’s where you’ll sleep. My tent, the highest point of all of it, high enough that my calves would begin to burn, and I’d unzip my tent, and it would seem so loud, the zipper, and I’d take off all my clothes and lay on top of my sleeping bag. It was hot. And it was summer.
And besides, no one was going to walk up that hill, and no one would enter my tent, because there was no bell for that. The bells told us when to come together, but graciously, the time in between, the bells rand when it was time to be apart. Together. A part, together. One of my very favorite ways to be.
At night. I’d reach under my pillow where I had a contraband stash of gummy bears hidden, and I’d eat a handful of them. I’d savor them, and count them out for the remaining 9 nights, 8 nights, 7 nights. I’d pull apart the flavors like a somellier, like a 100-year old bottle of Bordeaux, and not a gummy bear tribe that were in a bin.
I don’t know that I’ve ever paid such attention to anything as I did in these 10-days where I said nothing, and the group said nothing, and the only noise came from the man, with the nervous tic, who I started to have compassion for.
What it must be like to want to be silent, and to not be able to.
At night, we’d listen to lectures from the same man, you’d hear a click, and then some chanting, and then his cheery voice would fill the room. The room with men on one side, and women on the other.
I don’t remember most of what he said.
But I remember most of what I needed.
Which was to know, that nothing is permanent.
Not anything at all.
Equanimity. And I’d roll that word over my tongue, and loved the way it felt, all 5-syllables, like an entire poem in one word.
It means, the way I understand it anyway, and the way it feels good to me….is that everything, is always changing.
3-years ago I was days back, from my time in Kenya.
2-years ago I was working on a team, in a brand new community, piecing together a life that felt like it didn’t fit.
1-year ago, I joined a new team, with a flashy title, a desperation to fit, and a noise as loud that hummed beneath the surface, this wasn’t it. And I, I needed to start again.
At every point above, and most points that I chart my life along, I have felt desperate that I will feel this way forever.
I have come to my knees and laid on the ground, and put my hands on the ground, I have been unable to breathe, I have been so so alone, I have placed myself in impossible positions, and closed my eyes, and folded my hands in prayer, and prayed to no god in particular, but any god that would listen….to fix it, please.
All these moments, I have believed that how I felt then, would be how I’d feel forever.
Sitting in silence for those 10-days, most of them in meditation, I learned what I need to remember every day.
None of this is permanent.
How I feel right now, wont feel this way in even a minute from now, and certainly a day, and most definitely a year.
It is both terrifying and liberating to know this.
I’ve been paying extra close attention to who’s in my life, and how they’re in my life. In a moment by moment kind of way. I have been paying extra close attention to those who lift me up.
I have formed around me, the community I have always sought.
I thought it would come in a job title. But it doesn’t. I suppose it can, but not for me, when I finally stopped running after a job title to explain my worth, I found a job where I feel more worthy than I have in such a long time.
When I stopped thinking it was her or him, or it, that would define my worth…I found more of an ability to just be, and let that be okay.
When I stopped agonizing over what to say, and how, to the people who do not equally exchange the what or how back to me…I could see, the people lifting me up. They’ve been there all along.
And tomorrow, I may not see any of it.
I may fold my worth into a title. I may believe that unless I am one half to a whole, I am no one in particular, I may run right past those lifting me up, to convince the ones pushing me down that I am worthy of their love.
I don’t know.
But the more I live, the better I get at knowing, that this really is it.
And now. This moment.
So here’s what I’ll say to this, 10-days in silence will do different things to different people, for me, it was to know equanimity, that everything is always changing. And this unique circumstance of your life right now, is oh so very delicate and temporary, there are things in your life right now that you wish you could keep and know forever, there are things in your life right now, you’d give anything to erase.
And you cannot.
Because that is not a life.
So wherever you are in the moment, take pause, and notice, I say, go to the people who celebrate you, and look them in the eye and say thank you. Give them a big hug, and hold on for at least 5-breaths.
Don’t spend too much time where it’s dark, because it will pass, and you will likely not remember this sorrow….but if you stay too long where it’s dark, in all your remembering, you will stay there. There being a destination. And dark will become comfortable, and you will place your body on the ground in the most impossible position, and you will not know how to ask for help.
You will shout it into the darkness, and it is very very hard to hear where that’s coming from. Even for the person that loves you the most, who is walking around in that for you, with their arms out, hoping and praying they’ll bump into you, in this most cruel form of call and response.
Call for them at the top of the mountain.
Find yourself there.
There is nothing permanent about this moment.
Not anything at all.