Recently, I took silent days – no talking, no screens of any sort, and no phone – both weekend days.
That Sunday I was walking home from the park, about to cross SE 76th Avenue in Portland. There was a STOP sign in my direction so of course I stopped and glanced to my right and left. I saw cars coming from both directions.
I stopped walking, and waited. Logical, right? I would wait for the cars to pass; it would only take a second or two.
But the cars stopped too! Both of them. They saw me and stopped immediately to let me cross the street, even though – there being no STOP sign on 76th at that corner – they had the right of way. (I love Portland!)
The day before, Saturday, I had broken my silence one time by automatically uttering a neighborly “Hi!” to someone I crossed paths with on the street. On this day, Sunday, I really wanted to see if I could maintain total silence (apart from singing, which I do on all my “silent” days).
But of course, in response to this gesture of supreme courtesy from the drivers of these two vehicles, without even thinking I called out “Thank you!” and waved to them both as I briskly crossed the street between them.
On the other side of the street, I kept my eyes down. I did not want to make eye contact with the driver (and/or occupants) of the near car. That was part of my silence — minimal eye contact with people. (Eye contact with animals was okay.) I didn’t feel I could gracefully avoid ALL eye contact, walking around on Mt. Tabor on a weekend afternoon, but I could do my best. So, avoiding eye contact with this thoughtful driver was part of me doing my best.
A block or so later I realized that my thoughts were lingering with that car. I hadn’t “reinforced” the driver’s gracious impulse by rewarding her or him with a smile or a friendly glance. I realized that I felt slightly guilty about this, as if I’d caused unnecessary suffering to someone.
I saw my mind doing that – having these whispering, haunting types of thoughts.
Now you may think that’s fucked up. Maybe your own mind doesn’t do that, never does that (at least not for no really good reason). But trust me: Your mind does do SOME things you’re not aware of. If you take a day of silence, you will see some of them more clearly.
Perceiving my “background thoughts” more distinctly gives me a certain internal spaciousness and freedom, relief and even elation. I really don’t have to believe all my thoughts once I can look at them objectively. And it’s much easier to shift my focus – and therefore my mood – when my mind becomes more transparent to me.
Often identifying a problem, being mindful of it, becomes the solution itself.Matt Haig
You don’t have to repair to an ashram or a retreat center to witness your mind. Take a day of silence – and put away all screens for a day – right amidst the turbulence and (non-screen-induced) stimuli of your day-to-day life. You’ll see.
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