Silence RetreatI felt like I had embarked on a dangerous adventure. I had the sense of doing something scary that I didn’t fully understand, something that could turn out to be more than I could handle. It was the mid-seventies, and I had signed up for a silent weekend of meditation. l had done meditation before, and l had been to the ashram for a couple of weekend events, but I didn’t really know anyone there, and the people had been a different group each of the two or three times I had come up. I remember it was a lovely fall Friday. I had left my husband and two children at home and embarked on this all by myself. As a matter of fact, my husband was not particularly thrilled to have me disappear for the weekend, which added to  my  sense of daring.

There wasn’t much of an introduction. I had hoped  for some kind of philosophical explanation on the spiritual value of being silent. Nothing like that. Just a schedule, the instruction not to talk, and help with bedding. Around 9:00 PM. we retired to our rooms. l shared a room with another woman who looked very nice. I had brought a little food with me that I wanted  to snack on, so I said to her, “My name is Joan. Would you like a banana?” She took out a pad of paper and, from her bed, wrote in  large letters, “No thank you. My name is Mona.”

I was utterly devastated. l had broken the silence. Obviously she didn’t approve of my talking. I vowed not to say another word the rest of the weekend. But I was chagrined. Also, l didn’t like her very much. I thought it was quite a put-down. It wouldn’t have cost her that much silence to say, “No thank you.” I would have gotten the hint. In fact, I didn’t really want to talk myself; I was just being polite.

The next day I kept noticing that other people seemed to have important reasons why they had to whisper to one another. Since I didn’t know anyone, I really didn’t have any reason to break the silence, and no one had any need to talk to me. It annoyed me that everyone else wasn’t making the complete effort I was. And then I would remember the way my roommate had responded to a simple courtesy, and I would get really pissed.

On Sunday at noon, the retreat had ended and we were all sitting around a large round table chatting and getting to know one another. I was relaxed and having fun when I noticed Mona, my roommate, sitting across from me. “Mona,” I said, ready to forgive all former slights, “Do you live around here?” She smiled back at me very warmly, wrote on a pad, and held it up for me to see. It said, “No. I live in New York City. Where are you from?”

Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.

This article is only for Subscribers!

Subscribe now to read this article and get immediate access to everything else.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? .