this is the fifth in a series of blog posts on silence. see also:
at the end of my retreat i looked back and had written about 65 pages in a journal trying to notice what i was experiencing. and i summarised in the last conversation with my guide for the week in three themes which were contemplatve prayer, soulwork and vocation which i pictured as a cord of three threads woven together. i want to say something here about the middle one - what i call soulwork.
i remember being astonished when i watched the tv series the big silence at how powerful it seemed for the people to be in silence. they were from different walks of life and not particularly religious. but for all of them in different ways once they had slowed down somewhat they seemed to notice things about themselves and their lives - whether to do with deep longings, resltessness, vocation, grief, woundedness, who they are. it just surfaced whether in memories, dreams, prayer, or from seemingly nowhere. perhaps this is why some people seem afraid of silence, we're actually afraid of facing ourselves? i quite liked kester's thought on this that the word retreat may not be a great description of this kind of experience - it's not an escape, but more a moving forwards by to put it bluntly dealing with some of our own shit. but what was lovely is that stuff surfaced in an environment that felt safe for those people because it was guided and it was in the Presence of Silence, which is a presence of unequivocal embrace and acceptance by the love that loves us, a presence that enfolds and holds us in our own vulnerability and woundedness. i appreciate that for some that experience of presence may not be your own - i have a faith and belief in god who is like this and is in some extraordinary way a friend of the world who reaches out in relationship. but i also think that many artists and poets have named the experience of this presence intuitively in similar ways. it's hard to describe - ineffable in fact!
i had three dreams in the week that ended up being quite significant soulwork. i won't share the details of them all as i don't want to hang my soul out in public in too raw a fashion all in one go. but i'll share one that's weird enough - in it i was kissed on the mouth by a girl who seemed familiar but i didn't think i knew. at the time i was trying to be welcoming in setting up an event. the dream then shifted to being at a family gathering in which people were watching movie clips. i was sat with my two lads and laughing and joking. as one clip was shown i asked them what they thought. and one shrugged and said 'that was 17 years ago'. i knew that they were asking why there was a gap since then with nothing inbetween. i went inside a marquee to get a glass of wine a little confused. as i began to uncork a bottle the cork burst out and sparkling red wine overflowed and i wasn't expecting it to be sparkling.
i find dreams intrigung and have had a few over the years that have been significant. what i think is disarming about dreams is that they come from the leftfield (whether as gifts or written out of some deep place in ourselves or both?) somehow bypassing the rational filters and defences we so readily have in place. immediately i began thinking about 17 years. what happened 17 years ago? and over breakfast a memory came back to me that i suspect was almost exactly 17 years ago in which i was hurt and lost trust. as it turns out that wounded me a lot deeper than i liked to admit at the time. i'm not going to spell that out in a blog post for the world to see. but essentially through the dream and then in conversation with my guide i became convinced that a part of me had fragmented, split off or been shut away (or bottled up!) because of my own woundedness and loss of trust. so i spent some of the next days reflecting on what this part of me is, talking to her, and welcoming her back into my life, praying for integration where there had been fragmentation. i experienced the Presence of Silence somehow holding me together almost literally in a healing way. i suspect this will take quite some time to settle down in me and work through its implications. i think i have a good sense of what this part of me is and hope i can help her flourish as i learn to trust again.
this is weird i know - do feel free to move on and ignore this post! but this is one of the things that happened to me when i stepped out of noise and into silence. i wasn't expecting it. i went to slow down and be in silence. i didn't even know it was there or an issue. i have no basis for supporting this other than an intuition but i have wondered since how many times that part of me has tried to get my attention and failed over the last seventeen years. the wine was just waiting to burst out after all. in silence there is time to notice, time to pay attention, time for our attention to be got, time to become aware. and stuff surfaces, stuff happens in the Presence of Silence and it is soulwork.
becoming who you are is what many contemplatives suggest is our life's work. thomas merton has a fairly oft quoted line on this
There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find him.
in some ways it's a bit counter intuitive as they also have an emphasis on letting go, on emptying yourself out but i came to experience a whisper in the Presence of Silence of two simple word that said to me as i was wrapped and held together in my cloak and the love that loves us - be you. since the silence i hope to try and lean into that a little more, become a bit more me.