Welcoming the New Year in Silence

This year, January 1st found me in the lovely Laurentian village of Val-David, in the company of my sangha. A sangha is a spiritual community and over the more than five years we’ve been together, that is what we have become. What began as a group of mostly psychology students (and me) learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) grew into a group that was more interested in deepening our understanding and practice of the mindful component of ACT, than studying that (very useful) approach. We now spend our weekly meetings exploring where mindfulness fits into our lives and our practices (if it does).

What about the silence, you ask? In 2016, our sangha started creating, organising and catering our own silent retreats. We usually plan one for the beginning of each new year. This year, the retreat started on the 1st. For people who talk for a living, four days of silence is an interesting contrast and frankly, for me, a welcome relief. Whatever advice or wisdom we encounter, so often shared with our clients, is turned inwards, to nourish ourselves. We retreat to somewhere lovely and quiet, to deepen the experience. Suddenly, the time and quiet that is unavailable in the hustle of our daily lives allows thoughts and feelings to show up. Our “shy souls”, as the educator Parker Palmer calls them, creep out of their hidey-holes and make themselves silently known. Thoughts have space to be explored, challenged, deepened; feelings follow suit. And when you’re silent for an extended period of time, sounds themselves become stories–the scritch of the hairbrush untangling long, curly hair; stairs being shoveled of frozen, bumpy snow; lunch being lovingly prepared and carefully cleaned up after; dishes intentionally washed; birds singing and chittering to one another. All without any hurry.

In our helping practices, silence is an unrestricted invitation to the Other to simply be–unhurried, accepted without judgment or expectation, they are invited to take the space our silence offers and use it as they wish. When we, as practitioners, become at ease with silence ourselves, we are able to offer its priceless gift of time and space to our clients for their exploration.

How will you welcome Silence into your practice in 2020?

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