It’s Friday evening and an end to a full week. I think at one point in my life, I didn’t even know life could look this way. I am preparing soups and slow cooked roasts for the storm heading toward the midwest and listening to Soft Focus on Spotify.
This is the fifth post in the Cleaning Out Your Stuff series. To start the exercise at the beginning go here.
I want to introduce the concept of silence. In this busy world that we are all doing our best to navigate, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to find time to do nothing. I’m not talking about hitting up the gym, scrolling through your social media feeds, laying on the couch listening to music, playing tag with your dog. I am talking about doing absolutely nothing in the presence of silence.
A few years ago I was making my way through the Louise Hay book series. I wasn’t feeling like my best and I found myself at home on Friday nights with no plans for awhile. At first I thought there was something wrong with me, I intended to make plans but when it came time to reach out or schedule anything, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The company I kept was limited, people who were deep souls who understood what I was navigating but mostly, just myself. While there was a part of me really upset that we weren’t out on the town being super social my body and my heart were asking for solace, and so that is what they got.
Sometimes we slept and we slept hard. We slept like we hadn’t slept ever, like we had just been permanently awake for 30 or so years. I started seeking out hormone tests and changing my diet and wondering if perhaps if I drank wheat grass I would not be so comatose. It didn’t work. My body demanded rest. So I found myself cooped up on Saturdays with no motivation to work, write, or create. The only energy available to me was focused on looking inward, it was so curious about the insides of me—and it wanted me to use all that I had to go in and figure things out. And so I did. The first book I dove into was the Louse Hay Mirror Work book where you sit in front of a mirror and you tell yourself that you love yourself. Can you imagine? I thought this was the craziest thing ever, and each day while I rolled my eyes, I also dragged myself to the mirror in my sweats and I looked myself in the eyes and I said out loud, “Good Morning Teresa, I love you”. And each day the affirmations shifted a bit to be more specific and each day I did this with a bit of hesitation and a lot of hope. And then one day I looked in the mirror and I saw myself there and I went to say the affirmation and all that came out was, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry that I ever made you feel like you didn’t matter”.
One afternoon the exercise was to draw yourself with your left hand. “Bizarre”, I thought, as I pulled out my colored pencils and got comfortable at my kitchen table. I drew myself with my left hand, it was hideous. Her face was all disproportional and her nose was weird and pointy and her eyes didn’t match and it looked like some abstract piece of art no-one would ever buy. And I sat there, alone with this image of me, and I laughed and laughed and laughed. And then I was sort of proud, proud that I had taken the time, proud that I had let go of the expectation to be perfect, to draw perfectly, to be reflected perfectly.
As you can imagine when you are cooped up all day and night you run out of exercises and books and things to occupy your time. There isn’t enough Grey’s Anatomy in the world to cover the amount of hours I spent alone during this time. And eventually no matter how wonderful Meredith Grey is, you need a break from her. So I would find myself ready to crawl back into bed to actually go to sleep and still a little energized toward looking inward. One night I took out a few candles and put my favorite blanket on the floor. Something moved me to go around my apartment and grab every photo of my mom I could find. I placed the photos in between the candles like an alter—for you movie folks like me, I liken it to any death scene in every movie where pictures of the loved one are sprawled out along the grass in front of their home and people are coming to visit these photos and candles and leave love notes. In my living room I built a film worthy shrine to my mom and then I sat down on the floor and did nothing. I didn’t turn on music. I didn’t meditate or think about anything, I just sat there.
I looked at the pictures of her for a long time. I examined the youthful photos, the one of her where she is 30 and her head is tilted and her hair is long. I examined the one of her laughing with a glass of wine in her hand. I looked at all of them as closely as I could. And then I let the silence take me over. I sat there long enough so that the voices that are typically chattering in my mind became quiet. My to do lists silenced themselves and my worrier put down her worries and then all that was left was emptiness. My mind was suddenly empty. It was empty for awhile until subtly and slowly a feeling rushed over my body and I became warm and the warmness buzzed. And then a voice whispered, “Mom I love you, but it is time that I let you go.”
Tears came streaming down my face and I felt a release. I felt like everything I had been carrying for the decade she had been gone disappeared. I felt her whisper back to me. “Oh honey, don’t you worry, I already knew it was time.” And then I began crying harder and harder until there weren’t any tears left inside of me.
I sat there for awhile almost as if I wasn’t really sure I was ready, almost wondering that if I didn’t get up from that space then I really didn’t have to honor my promise. But eventually I found the strength to blow out the candles, pick myself up and crawl into bed. And I laid my head down on my pillow and I pulled the covers close, let out a big sigh and fell deeply to sleep.
We can do all of the work. We can read all of the books and do all of the exercises but the real magic happens in-between. It happens in the silence. It happens when we shut out all of those tasks and assignments and responsibilities. You want to make an important decision about your life? Try sitting in silence for thirty minutes for three nights in a row. Don’t ask your friends, don’t seek out guidance from a mentor. I mean, you can do all of these things, and they are important parts of the journey—but the magic is in the silence. The answer is in-between all of those things—it’s behind the stirred up thoughts and the external forces. It’s hidden in the silence.
Today the exercise is simple. I want you to sit in silence. Gather whatever you need for safety; maybe it is candles, a cup of tea, your favorite sweater, a photo of a special moment or a special person, or even a photo of you from a time in your life where you felt happy and whole. And then I went you to give yourself thirty minutes. I know I know, it’s a lifetime. But stick with me here. Set a timer if you wish and let the silence wrap you up in its strength. And when you are finished jot down a few things that happened while you were there. What did you discover? What did you release? Who whispered to you?