June 30, Hamilton, NY
“Can we whisper?”
The retreat place was described as a place of silent sanctuary, built with private funds and having no religious affiliation. Rich with books and art from all the world’s religions, it could be a goldmine for understanding “deep culture” and solitude – personal and professional quests that we share.
And, it was an intriguing possibility for a place to stay, about halfway on the long drive to Toronto to visit our son, Ean.
Silence and solitude are wellsprings for the world’s religions. This retreat house observes silence, except at meals. Guests need to stay for at least two nights “since it takes some time to quiet down and to discover the resources available”.
As we near the silent haven we start to wonder, “How are we going to do this?” The two of us usually have a lot to say to each other. There’s the old tape saying that when couples “don’t talk” to each other, they must be angry.
Our rebellious minds dig up old authoritarian scripts featuring the “Silence Police”, Like school kids, we laugh as we conjure ways to resist. A secret notepad?
High up in the hills by a low-slung wood and stone structure, almost hidden in the hollow of a wooded knoll, they wait for us – two graceful women, the caretakers and guides, greet us warmly.
“Stevi, Robert, would you like some iced tea”?
We enter a hushed atmosphere that invites a soft silence. Mala and Beeta, sisters from Sri Lanka, guide us to the spacious library of exquisite reading chairs, wooden card-catalog drawers, and the scent of ashes in the large stone fireplace. The art and music library displays golden Greek Orthodox icons, a splendid Jewish shofar, graceful Arabic calligraphy, intricately textured Tibetan tankas and easy chairs for listening to the resonance of early Gregorian Chant and the timeless sounds of spiritual expression.
Bare feet are cooled by the smooth stone floor of the meditation space as it glows in the warm golden shades of amber glass and the afternoon sun. Deep within the chapel are several one-person inner-sanctums so removed from the outside world that any distraction will only come from within. Our simple adjoining sleeping quarters have weighty bookshelves, large reading lamps, and one of the thickly textured wing chairs found throughout.
Like the deep breath of some hidden presence, the huge sculpted Burmese gong announces mealtimes – the sound is felt but barely heard throughout this serenely quiet place. Fragrances of homey Sri Lankan cooking enliven the air. We learn that the retreat house has been home to our guides for many years. We are the only visitors this week.
Shortly, we are totally on our own, no schedule but mealtimes, no need for watches, no one asking for attention, no phones, no email.
Empty space, full of possibility. The soft emptiness invites us to “enter the silence”.
With that rare feeling of having enough time to do everything, we soon find ourselves separately drifting from one thing to another, finding a quieter rhythm.
No “hurry”, no words. The silence inside this structure slowly becomes quietness inside us. Like a delicate snowfall, the stillness drifts gently down upon us.
We glide into this serene spaciousness like two soaring birds with wings widespread, drifting into the great quiet of mountain tops, glimpsing lush valleys far below as they bathe in mist and sunlight. In our silent duet, we ride the same air currents and circle each other slowly as we dance in the expanse of sky and space.
Two days have passed. We roll down car windows and click seat belts. We smile and say hello to each other again. We can talk now, and we do. The secret notepad, forgotten and unused, now feels silly and irrelevant. In the foggy warmth of reconnecting, we drive away.
We pause for a few minutes, and then talk again. Our duet has a slower cadence and a deeper tone. And then we are quiet together again.
More information on the retreat house may be found at:
©Robert Charles Smith, PHD