Do Not Disturb
Sshh…silence is golden
A registration notice inviting us to a meeting with Sister Winnie gave us an opportunity to unlock our jaws and talk through our expectations of the week. Stuttering to articulate an unprepared answer I was disarmed by a knowing smile…‘A chance to be still?’ Wondering whether my obvious question statement was enough, nodding, she passed her eyes on to the next pilgrim. Supper was wholesome and plentiful, served by a verbose chef oblivious to a rule of silence. My inner teenager threatened to make an appearance in the form of a fit of giggles, as fellow diners descended into a sequence of Mr Bean charades ‘asking’ for salt and pepper, water or more bread. Food was chewed pensively whilst an aria sprang out of a set of speakers to mask the sound of mastication. A post supper stroll in the rose garden caught the low sun spreading the last of its glory across the Gloucestershire hills. Birds took their chance to chatter about the day’s events, the wind breezed through tree tops in harmony, sheep bleated contentedly in the meadow below and plump bees pitched in their alto contribution. Inside I was quiet, stillness was beginning to settle in. The shouting world seemed to reside in another county, sleep was deep, uninterrupted and reviving.
My first bout with silence had been fruitful, I woke with a clear head and steadied myself for room to think and a further 24 hours of quiet, save for the twenty minutes with Sister Winnie each morning to download my thoughts and help guide me through the rest of my journey. My cynicism donned its boxing gloves, “how could someone who knew nothing about me ‘guide me’ ?”. She offered no defence and floored me with kindness,not in words but in her features as if drawing on a depth deeper than mine. Her words were few and simple, often referencing poetry or biblical philosophy, ancient wisdom to confound the wise. The daily ritual challenged me to stop and stare and allow my mind to breathe, no ipod, ipad, mobile, just turning the volume down on the world, time on my own to be, not do.
Two days later walking through the upper meadow, I found my head empty of the noise, my commuter march had slowed to an amble and Sister Winnie’s words came to the fore ‘stillness will come and when it does, stay there for a while.’ I obeyed and sat in the long grass with views across Cheltenham and the valley beyond, closed my eyes and felt warm air on my face and listened to nature’s symphony. Wind whistled through willows like brushes on a jazz snare drum, distant cattle contently mooing, a crow crackled above, finches swooped from hedge to hedge and summer insects buzzed under the sun, nature’s harmony flooded the stillness. A welcome invasion almost fragrant and there amongst the gentle orchestra I detected a feint voice, something inside, a voice I hadn’t heard for a long time.
The following days carried a similar pattern, the chef got chattier, my sleep was deeper, silence became easier, in fact essential, contemplation was an eager companion. I felt reproach towards my quick judgement of other’s external appearance. The Maharani’s initial struggle with silence dissipated as she disappeared for hours with sketch book in hand. Serenity dressed my waking moments, providing the welcome head space to think through those important choices on how one wants to live and re-organise priorities which often get smudged out of view or lost down the back of life’s sofa. There amongst England’s quintessential hills and chintz fringed drawing rooms I discovered balance and the valuable tools to moderate the volume button and experience the power of silence. An essential asset for every mortal being like water for a dehydrated soul, it’s a must and you might just hear that voice you heard once before. Plus you’ll get the chance to brush up on your Marcel Marceau skills….you’ve everything to gain.