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On Silence

Here’s a wonderful post from Karen Robbie who has just been on the Crosby Retreat:

“My name is Karen Robbie.  I have been practising zen for 19 years.  I would like to share a few of my personal thoughts on silence.

I’ve always wanted to write something about silence. It feels difficult to write about it because its not about words.  I don’t really care for too much silence in my everyday life because I don’t have that much time to study myself; life takes over, but when I go on a sesshin I prefer to be quieter and maintain a level of silence.  I feel it helps me ’still the muddy waters’ and it seems to magnify how you are feeling without dissipating it with words and conversations.  It gives you a chance to experience your busy mind and body in a more spaceous way.  I read that  limiting our distractions isn’t prohibitive but a greater chance to examine deeper what we’ve come to see.  Dark clothing, zazen, kinhin and silence are all restrictive devices.

Isolation, loneliness, fear can surface when we are still and quiet.  When we leave the zendo, it might help to ease these feelings to talk to someone.  The pain might go, we might feel better but I suspect we’ve just covered what we’ve worked so hard on the cushion to see.  Joko Beck says it’s a tough practice and not for the light hearted.  So we become warriors in the zendo, in the kitchen, in the yard, but if we have chats does it dissipate?  It seems that the process, the journey isn’t an easy one and I think that maintaining silence makes it even more difficult, but that struggle keeps telling me its worth it.  Sometimes I’m on sesshin and I think, oh what the hell, just get to know everyone you’ll never get to know people if you don’t chat, but something holds me back, something says no, maintain as much silence as you can.  Zazen and silence, the box and its lid for me go hand in hand.

Silence doesn’t have to be hell.  Shunryu Suzuki said it was much easier to know someone when they were sitting in a zendo facing the wall, because their body language told him everything.”