The Softeness of Silence


I’m writing this from a cottage.

{Perfectionisty side-note: I drafted this last week. I'm home now.}

The porch is dripping, the sky is grey and low, my socks never dry from walking through all the puddles. Marshall is splayed out on the rag rug beside me, a pile of paws and soft breath. Ian is in the kitchen making a bacon and egg sandwich, his body rocking to the rhythm of his headphones.

We’re not talking. It’s perfect.

For many years, I’ve been creating intentional silence with groups at Firefly. We do it at least twice on retreats — long stretches of focused, quiet time to write and just to be. Many people are nervous about it the first time. I was too. Quiet is spacious, and in that space we find... ourselves. If we haven't been hanging out with ourselves much, it can be scary to turn inward and say hi.

I tell them — This isn’t about not making noise. Feel free to sigh or stretch or rummage for your favourite mug. But let yourself step back from the web of relationships that follow you through the day. Don't pass notes. Don't use sign language.

I tell them — Draw an invisible curtain around yourself. It’s just you in there, with your work.

I tell them — Assume everyone has what they need. Take care of you. Let yourself have this time.

I tell them — I'm here if you really need me.

Then we begin. Sometimes we ring a little bell. Sometimes we all take a breath together. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is to all agree to this, visibly, clearly.

It’s hard to explain, but when we cross that line together, something fundamental changes. It’s like a big invisible door has whooshed open and we’re suddenly on the other side of it, together but also solitary, connected but not called on.

I find myself walking differently, aware of each step.
I find myself noticing the colour of things, the quiet hidden corners of beauty.
I find myself in a deep reverence for everyone else in the room, and for the work they're doing.

After a while my writing starts to come, clear and uncompromised, my voice remembering it’s own tempo and sway.

It’s a really good thing. And Ian’s a really good thing. Somehow, I’ve never put them together. But then today I woke up sad and squirmy. We’re heading home tonight and I can’t feel the stillness I came here for. I’ve spent the last 2 days distracted by emails I need to send, worries turning into worst-case-scenario movies in my head. Ian's job hunting so he's been online for hours, and of course I’m in there with him, holding the tether of this unknown path. Then I remembered silence.

Hey, um, babe, how would you feel if we didn’t talk to each other until lunch?

I wasn't sure how that would go down.

He looked up from his laptop, a little puzzled. His face said “Why would we do that?” But he’s a game kinda guy, and he likes to see me happy, so we figured out food (no bacon sandwich for me please) and timing (2 hours with the option to extend) and then we settled.

And just like that, whoosh. The worries softened. I went for a walk. I looked at the trees reflected in puddles, the branches like capillaries, like lungs. My breath traveled down into my belly, such a relief. And here it is, my writing voice, right where I left it.

Why is this so different from just... not talking? Ian and I aren't terribly chatty. We’ve been together long enough that we don’t rush to fill the air. Today we made an agreement not to talk, but there are also many hours when we just happen not to talk. Why don't I feel like this then?

I think it has to do with intention. That shared breath, the simplicity of, “Hey, let’s do this” and "Okay, yeah, let's." It creates a change. Doing it together amplifies that change. I love him for being over there, cutting the bread, giving me this space, taking it for himself.

Truthfully, I’m rolling my eyes a bit right now. This sounds impossibly flaky to my logical self. Intention? That’s what this newsletter is about? But it is, yes. I’m owning it. Hi. This is me.

I’m going to carry this question forward — how else can I use intention to create space for fuller, wider experiences? I'd love it if you'd join me in that question.

If you’re hungry for some of that Firefly-style silence, our summer retreats are open for registration today. Here’s the link to see what we are offering. Each have stretches of glorious silence, and one has 3 whole days of it, oh my goodness I cannot wait.

If you were on an early bird list, you’ll already have gotten the go-ahead to register. If you weren’t, I’ll warn you now — those organized early birds got a lot of worms. But there are still some spots open, and we’d love to see you. To get on the early bird list for fall, follow this link. It's going to be a big fall.

Whatever your path, whatever your next sentence, here’s to exploring all the treasures that a little hint of intention can bring.

Chris Fraser