Breaking Silence

A gift received from Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacittā during my 10-day monastic retreat in Barre, MA.

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“May we be filled with love and kindness. May we be well. May we be peaceful and at ease. May we be happy.”

And so another day ended. At 10:00PM we walked out of the meditation hall the same way we came in: in complete silence. This chant would echo in our minds and lullaby us into the night. Together with a handful of chants in Pali, these were the only words ever uttered from our lips. The same routine would awaken us the next day at 5:30 in the morning. Day 1. Day 9. Day 3. It didn’t matter. Time was suspended. And so were we for the duration of this retreat. Sitting meditation. Walking meditation. Tea breaks. Breakfast. Lunch. Night fast. No dinner. Volunteer work.

Enclosed at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, our activities had one defining commonality: complete silence. Ten days of it. And there was a hundred of us. I opened a magazine and this universe that now seemed light-years away instantly flashed back at me. I was sitting at Barnes & Noble, a latte within reach, bad country song playing in the background, and I was now staring at the two Bhikkhunis that led that 10-day silent retreat. My two teachers, Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacittā were being featured on the later issue of Tricycle magazine.

I had forgotten that emptiness. I had forgotten the space that opens after your thoughts echo in vain in your mind. After ten days of ricocheting at an invisible wall with no response, a thought has no strength to keep going on its own. It gives up. You give up. You surrender. What was I saying? Nothing… Wasn’t that the whole point of that retreat? I never spoke about those ten days. (Silence, right?) And, It’s not that you walk away from an experience like this with “no words to describe it”. You walk away with a million words to describe it. Enough to keep you talking for hours on end, but that is exactly what you no longer want. Talking means missing what just happened. Missing this very moment. You treasure more the listening than the speech. So you suspend the speech in midair and go into silence. And this happens more often than you ever thought possible.

But, looking back at those ten days, that taught me more than I could ever grasp in 10 years, I realized there is something to be honored. And, in no way I am referring to my resilience to withstand a 10-day monastic retreat. Believe me, there is no merit in crawling into a quiet place when you are confused and in pain. But I have to break the silence, to honor those who held a space I could crawl into. And held that silence. And held me. Forever.

“May you be filled with love and kindness May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy.”

You can meet my teachers (I am daring to call myself a student) in the last issue of Tricycle | The Buddhist Review . They have been beautifully photographed by photographer Timothy Archibald.

If you want to experience some of the words that guided me during those ten day, you can hear some of the recordings of our evening dharma talks at http://www.dharmaseed.org/retreats/1444/

Since 2009, Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacittā have dedicated themselves in creating Aloka Vihara, a monastic community for women. And they hope to soon purchase its current rental house and 17-acre property near Placerville, California. If you would like to take part of their vision and assist them to have a permanent home, you can make a donation at http://saranaloka.org/support/were-purchasing-a-rural-property/

PS: I am happy to announce they were able to put a down payment on their rural property! All they need is help with their monthly payments. http://saranaloka.org/support/were-purchasing-a-rural-property/

And one more thing, Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacittā will be leading another monastic retreat at Insight Meditation Society in April. Here is all the information about it: Listening to Natural Law: Monastic Retreat

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