Sunday, March 7, 2010
Silencing the Stories
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth. ~Mahatma Gandhi
If I take a few minutes and consciously listen, there's a lot of talking going on inside my head. Consciously is the key word here.
Several years ago I was dealing with a very stressful personal situation. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I was frequently sick, often irritable for no real explainable reason and was having this strange sensation under my skin like pins and needles. I went to the doctor, hoping in some kind of perverse way that he might reveal some hidden disorder that was causing my skin irritations, frequent outbursts and overall malaise. It's so much easier to blame it all on someone or something else!
“Are you stressed, perhaps? More than usual?” I remember wanting to laugh out loud, thinking, “What? Do I look stressed? Two kids under the age of 4, I’m training for a marathon, I’m sick and tired all of the time, I’ve got this business I’m trying to get started, financial strains are inevitable and this other thing that is on my mind 24/7 is eating me up from the inside out? What? Me stressed? You’ve got to be kidding.
“Maybe, a little.” I responded.“Well, let’s consider this prescription.” He quickly scribbled out something that started with an X (and it wasn’t xylophone, the only word, until then, I had ever been aware of that really started with the letter X), handed it to me, and sent me off with, “This should help.
”Darn it, I thought. No severe illness, immune disorder or digestive malfunction. I was…like many other new mothers well-done, cooked and stressed out to the max, all, ironically by my own doing. The stories I made up then, about motherhood, work and child-rearing would, no wonder, leave most women frazzled, empty and worn-out. I was unconsciously trying to live up to some kind of "mother-standard" that somehow had snuck its way into my psyche. The stories I made up then were, many based on outside influences, but were all nonetheless, imaginary. There was no one standing over me with a wooden spoon and a set of pans screaming, "Mothers do this and look like this" and yet often times this is how it felt to me as I drove myself into the ground attempting to be "the best" mom in the world.
The car ride home was no fun. I felt defeated, deflated and a little bit afraid. There was no sound at all, other than the hum of my car’s engine and that darn choir of imaginary voices in my head, all competing for lead vocal in the "this is how good mothers look sympthony.“See? You really are stressed out,” the sympathetic one agreed.“Poor thing, you’ve got so much on your plate,” the enabling one chimed in.“You are pathetic. You are completely incapable of managing your life,” the shaming one declared. Each voice had power and each had their own story about what I should be doing and what a good mother looked like.
Yet, mysteriously, one voice rose above all of the others. This voice was different. She was quiet, hollow and delicate; powerful and resilient, loving and best of all story-less! She was the voice of Silence. I hadn’t heard her for years…not since the stories of chaos had pushed her aside. I wanted to visit with her again.
So, the next morning, I drove to the cross country course at a nearby college and ran 8 miles across paths I’d never known existed. I heard the squish of my feet on wet, black leaves, my breathing as it fell in sync with my footsteps and my heartbeat when I paused at the crest of a hill. My fingertips were white with cold and my body was sweat-drenched with effort.
I thought of nothing as I ran beneath dry crooked kudzu vines clutching tree limbs made barren by winter’s cold. The stories of what I should be and act like were gently quieted...disappeared altogether actually... as I jogged across brown grassy fields soon to be warmed by the chilled red light of winter’s sunrise.
My friend Silence was there, on that run and in those woods. I found comfort in her strength…the way she gently led me from the story world outside myself to an internal space where time was suspended and I just was...alive, breathing, peaceful and present.
Now, I visit with Silence, everyday, to nourish my soul and refuel my spirit. I always find her in the woods, nestled in behind the soft scent of honeysuckle in spring or rising up in the dry red dirt of blazing summer sun. She tells me things that the demanding and imaginary stories of my external world don't like, like: I’m a good mother; I am beautiful; I am enough; I am at peace; I am grateful; I celebrate this run, this day, this breath.
I won’t let anything interfere with my regularly scheduled appointment with Silence. The prescription I opted for was to meet with her more often...sometimes it’s thirty minutes in the morning before my kids are awake or writing as I’m doing now, but always and forever during my runs in the woods.
Where do you find Silence? Do you intentionally seek her out? What happens when you listen to nothing? How do you feel?
(P.S. If you are interested in hearing less and being more...consider the following trail race seres The River Bound Race Series is a joint production of N.C. Outward Bound School and U.S. National Whitewater Center. The four-race series will take place on the 400 acres/14 mile trails at the Whitewater Center as a fundraiser for the N.C. Outward Bound Scholarships. Girls on the Run will have a presence there and we'd love to see you! http://www.usnwc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=349)