Silence Is Like Fluoride

For the last six months, I have been planning a weekend retreat for my birthday. 48 hours, all by myself, at a little cottage in the redwoods. As I kept telling people about this retreat I was going to take, I kept saying, “And for two whole days, I’m not going to brush anybody else’s teeth. Heck, I may not even brush my own teeth, I don’t know yet.” I reserved the cottage, weaned the baby, borrowed a car, and prayed my kids wouldn’t get sick. Still, up until 5:30 last Friday, I wasn’t entirely sure that it was really going to happen. But then I put my suitcase and groceries in the car and drove away. For real. Let me tell you, it was great.

I expected that this retreat would be healing. I had a mental picture of myself with little pieces broken off all over and that this weekend I would have time to heal over. It was like I was a rotten tooth and the silence would be like fluoride.

They say that as we go about our regular business, eating and talking, etc., the enamel on our teeth gets little nicks and cracks. If we don’t take care of them, they can break completely. Fluoride somehow helps the tooth to remineralize the enamel to repair the damage that is a normal part of the life of a tooth. And dental professionals have found that we need to have a daily small application of fluoride, but also every six months or so, a deeper, longer application of concentrated fluoride.

Well, I think silence is kind of like that. In our daily interactions, we bump into people and things, we talk and relate, maybe parents especially are always giving little pieces of themselves away. And we get little nicks and cracks in our souls, our selves. It’s just a normal part of being human. Little bits of us get broken or torn off and if we aren’t careful, we can end up looking like social or spiritual Swiss cheese. But a small daily dose of silence can help. I’ve seen that in the last six months. At the moments when I seemed in danger of totally cracking apart, I would just imagine myself at my retreat place and breathe, for maybe 10 seconds, and it was enough. I could come back to my real life and go on coping with the normal chaos of my family life.

This weekend has been like a deep silence application. I feel remineralized, restored, like all the little cracks and nicks and chips have been filled in and smoothed over. Even though I still had to cook and clean. I read books and walked in the woods. I ate cookies and drank tea and sang songs when I felt like it. As you learn in the woods as much as in the city, nature is never completely silent. The trees, the birds, the beetles are all making their little rustlings and chirpings. Silence is not something out there, it is something inside of me. When I am silent enough, I can hear the trees, hear God, hear my children speaking to me in so many different ways.

But this weekend I had time to be genuinely still. I stood at the center of the labyrinth and on the bridge over the creek and just looked and listened and prayed. These are the moments of peace, of full present moment awareness that will fill my 10 second retreats for the next long while. What a treat to say, “Here I am, Lord,” and just for the moment, not have to do anything.

At the same time, I realized how rusty I am at the discipline of solitary prayer. How hard it is to make myself sit still and turn to God for any length of time. Maybe a busy family life is just my excuse not to have to do this hard work. In any case, I am reminded of why Meeting for Worship is not just between me and God.

I’m not sure what the dental equivalent of a weekly Meeting for Worship is. But I do know that it is an important intermediate source of silence and sustenance, between the 10 second retreat and the weekend long version. Every week I have the opportunity to sit with other people in silence, in a nurturing and caring community, along with God. To still myself and my noise long enough to hear God. And somehow, it’s easier to sustain in community.

Which brings me back to family life. At the end of my retreat, I am able to think quite fondly, and not anxiously, about my husband, my children, my friends. I feel whole and healthy enough to go back and touch them, listen to them, help them, without feeling like I am going to break completely apart. What a joyous gift of my first-ever, maybe soon-to-be-annual birthday retreat.

P.S. When I arrived at the cottage, I thought for a minute about how this retreat was mostly about taking care of myself, so I decided to go ahead and brush my own teeth.

P.P.S. I wrote this a couple of years ago, but was inspired by Peggy to publish it here now. Very different kind of retreat, similar kind of healing, I think. My little cottage in the redwoods is available for longer or shorter rentals.


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Blogger Peggy Senger Morrison said...

I need a daily bit. My weekly M4W. A monthly 24 hr cloistered with the nuns in MT Angel. And then at least 2 48-72 hr aways, pref on the bike. Maybe I hacve weak "enamal" but this is my minimum, and does not inlude Q events with lots of people.

4/27/2006 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing that. Initially I was a bit confused about the time reference with the "weening the baby" part. :) What a wonderful reminder, especially to those of us who don't always take care of ourselves, that we do need a "weekly maintenance/check-in/practice" of silence and solitude.

5/02/2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you both for commenting. This was the first thing I ever wrote for publication. It also appeared in my son's school newsletter, my Meeting's newsletter, and Friends Bulletin.

As it turns out, I haven't made this an annual affair, because the next year I didn't need to be ALONE nearly as much. I think weaning the baby made a big difference, don't y'know.

Instead, I have made a practice of attending an annual workshop at Quaker Center by myself. Where I can be with other interesting people, do some thinking and writing, but not have to take care of anyone but myself for the weekend. The schedule of workshops is available for anyone who would be interested.

5/08/2006 3:28 PM  

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