After almost 20 years of marriage, it is nice to know that there are still new things to try and to learn.
Last weekend, Charlie and I attended a silent meditation retreat together. From Friday evening at 7:30 until noon on Sunday we did not speak to each other – or the other retreat participants. The only speaking was during specifically designated periods in which the teacher offered instruction (Dharma talks) or answered questions asked by the participants. We were even advised to avoid eye contact. Our time was spent alternating sitting and walking meditation. Did I mention that it was silent?
Silence is not my natural state. Professionally or personally. Speaking is part of my calling. I’m an extrovert. I know what I think after I have said it out loud and can hear how it sounds. Of course, part of the point of participating in a retreat such as this is to switch things ups – to step out of our normal way of being and see what we find there.
What I found in this external silence was how really not silent it is inside my head. Honestly, this was not a surprise. What was a surprise was one particular noise I found there. I worried about Charlie. Was he happy? Sad? Bored? Frustrated? Peaceful? Silently cursing me for getting him into this? I was aware how very much I am used to being able to check in with him if he is with me. I don’t think I would have been worrying about him if he had stayed at home. It wasn’t that I needed to tell him how I was. I wanted to know how he was. Over two decades, we’ve developed a lot of nonverbal communication so even eye contact would have helped, but we used that only to determine it was time to turn off the light in our room at night.
To quiet my concerns, I tried to construct scenarios in which I didn’t need to know. Maybe he’s happy, in which case, I don’t need to worry. Maybe, he is unhappy, in which case, at least I don’t have to hear about it and have it potentially spoil my time. For every possible state I could imagine for Charlie, I needed a “story” that made it OK. Did I mention, it wasn’t really so quiet inside my head?
Once the retreat was over, we talked. Charlie had had a full range of experiences and feelings. So had I. He was surprised to learn I had been worried about him. He had not been worrying about me. While he felt cared about, I felt the confidence that he had in me. We had very different reactions to our shared experience, and yet I found it comforting that we could interpret them both positively.
Perhaps the most important reminder of the weekend was of our tendency to create stories to explain our experience. As meaning-making beings, stories are inevitable. Stories are not the problem. The problem comes when we mistake them for reality.
More on that tomorrow…