this is the third in a series of blog posts on silence. see also:
sorry about the ridiculous title of the blog post. but one of the things people say about the Presence of Silence is that it is hard to talk about. the big word for that is ineffable. here's what the dictionary says about it
- Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words: "ineffable beauty".
- Too sacred to be uttered.
with synonyms such as unspeakable - inexpressible - unutterable - nameless.
sara maitland points out that if you can describe what happened and what it felt like then you have not had an authentic mystical experience! so this series of blog posts is probably utterly pointless - feel free to move on. but i do intend to try and describe a bit more my experience of silence in this series of blog posts.
i was in two minds when i went whether taking a camera would be encouraged. but my rationale for taking it as an aid rather than a distraction is that i think it helps me see, to pay attention, to look at things, to notice. and since thomas merton was into photography and awareness i figured that was a pretty good excuse! i blogged a few quotes about that here - a day of silence: photography and contemplation when i had been on a day's silence before. i tried that day to photograph the silence i experienced but i remember one member of the ealing photography group saying that they just seemed to be of a nice garden so clearly i didn't do too well. which brings me to the point or question of this post - if silence is unspeakable it is most likely unrepresentable in image and in photography - it's inephotographable. i realise that is not a catchy word so if anyone out there who is into etymology can come up with something better that would be cool. when i was googling around this sort of theme lots of the sites use the term capture for a photograph in this way - capturing the night sky or whatever. the more i think about it the more horrible a term that is - how can you possibly capture it? you might notice it or represent it or open up its gift but not capture - it's free.
all this by way of saying that one of the things i tried that is a great reminder for me personally of the time in silence was to take photographs of me in places where i encountered the Presence of Silence. but without the stories i doubt they open up silence to anyone else? i already posted the photograph of my coat which is actually my favourite because of what it came to represent, and me sat on a bench in the forest listening to birdsong. the photograph at the top of the post is me on a 3 hour walk in amazing countryside, snow and forests, but en route i crossed the A55 and it struck me that the stillness of my shadow on the bridge contrasted with the noise of the traffic below (that was probably the noisiest moment of my retreat) was a moment saying something about silence and turning the noise off, or finding inner silence when there is outer silence.
this one above is me in a forest with snow on the ground - i went for lots of really long walks. what i love about that photo is that it reminds me of how at home in the world i felt in the silence - connected with myself, god, creation, the trees - an experience of oneness or something and here i seem to blend into the landscape. apologies if i am sounding a bit hippy like!
this one is me in the rock chapel. it's a lovely little chapel that you can get the key to and wander across the fields to be in on your own. the idea is that if the key is gone no one else will disturb you. there is one bench and a range of coloured windows which represent different moods - i am literally bathed in the colours from those windows as you can see here. i went there about three times and had quite significant encounters with the Presence of Silence in that space - i called that photo 'held' because i felt held in the silence somehow.
i walked a labyrinth everyday. i absolutely love labyrinths - walking, slowing down, letting go, resting, breathing, being, praying, thinking, not thinking and so on. sometimes it took me an hour.
i went out at night several times. i suspect there is no one on the planet who has not looked at the stars and felt a sense of awe in the Presence of Silence. in n wales they are a lot clearer than in london that's for sure. i didn't have a tripod so rested the camera and this shot is an exposure of around 475 seconds. it's a bit blurry because the wind was blowing so the camera probably wasn't still. but to me this is an amazing gift that the lens sees of the earth actually spinning on its axis - the naked eye can't detect it but the movement in the star trails shows the gentle turning of the earth in space held in silence. what an extraordinary thing. i wish i had persevered and got a better photo but i was also trying to be in the silence and not get obsessed with photographing it.
there are a few others in this set here. see what you think. how would you photograph silence or is it an utterly pointless exercise?