The other night at the dinner table, our five-year-old, Eleanor, asked us where we would go if we had a time machine. The kids took turn sharing their ideas, and before I could give much thought to my answer, Eleanor exclaimed, “I know where mommy would want to go–Quiet Land!” We all had a laugh, and some one else joked about going to fart land (of course), but there was some truth to my little girl’s observation.
Yes, I like my share of peace and quiet. But my kids also notice, and probably not in a good way most of the time. A chronic lack of quiet makes me grumpy around those I love the most. And I end up stomping my feet and whining for quiet much like a toddler whines for a toy his brother just snatched out of his hands.
Like most mamas I know, there’s not much room for quiet in my life. But as an introvert it’s something I’ve always needed to thrive. Oftentimes it only comes late at night when the kids are in bed. But life as a night owl only works for so long. Pretty soon the lack of sleep catches up and that after-hours me-time kind of defeats the purpose in the long run.
After a recent experience of total burnout that led to our decision to put our boys back in public school, I realized my need for quiet. But when I went on a four night retreat last month, and didn’t find out it was a silent retreat until I got there, I was a bit surprised and honestly uncomfortable with the idea.
I know, I’m crazy for not jumping at the chance for peace and quiet with a house full of kids, right? I wasn’t expecting to be chatting it up my whole stay, I had gone seeking quiet and solitude, but I hadn’t fully realized I’d be spending that time with me. No cooking, cleaning, carpooling, watching t.v., interneting, kissing booboos, correcting manners, running errands, nada. Just me and God and a whole lot of time.
Dinnertime that first night felt bleak. A handful of guests gathered in the dining hall after the dinner bell rang. We silently picked up our plates and silverware, served ourselves and picked a seat among the scattered tables. I was alone at my table and felt so lost. No one made eye contact, no warm welcoming smiles. Just the clinking of silverware and the scuffling of chairs when someone got up to get a napkin or another glass of water. At home, dinner is a much more lively (and sometimes exhausting) affair.
At the silent church service the next morning just before sunrise, we had the opportunity to share a brief word that spoke to us from the readings of the day. I turned to the woman next to me. It wasn’t the story of Jesus withdrawing from the crowds that spoke to my heart. It was the women who danced and sang joyful songs at the return of David and Saul. This quiet solitude felt like the antithesis of celebrating life, and I longed for that dancing and singing.
After sharing my surprise about the unexpected silence, the woman (whom I never saw afterwards during my stay) placed her hand on my arm and said Silence is the still point from which all joy and dancing come. She had the warmest smile and a sparkle in her eye. Her words echoed in my ears the rest of my stay.
Returning home a few days later, I felt such a renewed peace within. I found my still point–my true inner self during my retreat into silence. Yes, the audible quiet helped me in finding it, but it was more about the stilling of my mind, the just being that helped me find it.
Coming back home it’s certainly been harder to still my mind when there’s so much doing to be done. But I’m better able to recognize when I need to take a breath and find the eye of the storm within. And by the grace of God I am the only person in this life who can find that place for me.
And to me, that place is yoga on Thursday mornings at the gym, a catnap or tea break in the afternoon. It’s being kissed by the sunlight shining down on me during mass on Sundays, taking a bike ride along the river, or diving into a good book. It’s about seeking the syncopated moments of quiet in everyday life, and not filling them to the brim with all the unnecessary things we distract ourselves with. The internet has been seeing much less of me lately.
I don’t need a time machine to run off to Quiet Land, all that’s needed is a deep breath and a smile. Then I can join back in on the dancing and singing more joyfully–and be in this life I’ve been blessed with.
What does your still point look like? How do you find your way to Quiet Land? Looking for motivation to dance and sing more loudly in your life? Check out the Bold. Brilliant. Beautiful. You. movement around the web using the hashtag #boldbrilliantbeautiful–and feel free to sing along with us! Want to join our Facebook group? Let me know in the comments and I’ll send you an invite!