Ingerid reacts with mixed emotions towards being in silence. The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s going to be hard, but then she looks around and is reminded of being surrounded by strangers. It might not be such a bad idea after all. At least she doesn’t have to go through awkward moments where two strangers meet and have nothing to say to each other.
She puts on a jacket and walks out. At the end of the property she discovers a forest trail leading up to a gravel road. She decides to go for a walk to air out the thoughts that keeps spinning in her head. As she carefully keeps her eyes on the path underneath her feet, she ponders the reason she impulsively shared about her intention to attend this weekend workshop. She hadn’t spoken of her first intention of getting to know disadvantaged people who might need her help in the future. On the other hand, it didn’t actually look like the people in the group were neither disadvantaged nor in a situation where they needed her help. It probably would’ve been embarrassing to admit that intention. Thank goodness she came up with a different answer, she thinks while shaking her head at those previously arrogant thoughts. The strange thing that seems to grind around in her head is that the answer she ended up sharing actually seems truer. As if truth got pulled out of her through the spotlight and in the presence of the others.
Ingerid kicks a couple of rocks on the gravel road and follows the stones with her eyes as they land a few feet in front of her. As she raises her eyes she discovers another woman walking down the road. She turns around and discovers another person walking a few feet behind her self as well. She giggles. Seeing the situation from a different perspective through a “newspaper headline technique” it would read: “Newsflash: City-people walking in silence along a dusty gravel road in the middle of nowhere.”
The lifestyle they usually live mixed with the scenery that surrounds them at the moment creates an odd contrast. Add to that image a few large heads filled with ideas, concepts, thoughts and questions up against a magnificent silent nature, and you’ll have another big contrast. It would make for an interesting painting with shades of humour, sadness, seriousness, depth and beauty. A reflection of the society we live in and the complexity that seems to take up all space in a human’s mind with little openness left to revel in nature’s grandeur.
Ingerid feels a sense of calm slowly sinking in. During the workshop sessions in the lodge, she still feels her head filled with thoughts and activities. She realises how difficult it is to just be really quiet and only pay attention to her breath. Kjetil gives them instructions on how to sit quietly and be aware of their own breathing. Simply breathing. He explains how thoughts come and go, and how one can learn to observe without engaging.
The Buddhist monks often refer to thoughts as “crazy monkeys” because they’re jumping from one thing to the next, sometimes while screaming and yelling with dramatic imaginary scenes to draw your attention” Kjetil explains with a calm and pleasant voice before he guides them into silence.
Ingerid is puzzled by the difficulty of accomplishing the exercise. It sounds so easy, yet she finds it very challenging to do. As far as she knows, she hasn’t been able to keep her attention on breathing for more than one or two inhales and exhales before a thought comes in and drags her attention into its own universe. Thoughts like “what are they going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of the weekend? Dinner that evening consisted of lentils stew, green salad, homemade bread and vegetable juice. Nothing at all like the food and drink she was used to having at home…”
Then she remembers the task at hand, and tries to clear her head and concentrate on her breathing once again. Three exhales later, new thoughts sneak in. This time it’s about her body. A little pain in the leg from the slightly uncomfortable sitting position has alarmed her, and she wonders if she can move. Her body isn’t used to sitting cross-legged and it feels neither natural nor pleasant. She wants to open her eyes to see how the others are positioned, but decides against it.
“What if she meets Kjetil’s gaze and gets caught in action, abandoning the task at hand?”, she thinks with a slight sense of fear.
Again she realises that her thoughts have gotten her attention and remembers the task at hand. She inhales deeply and exhales with a slow steady breath. Breathing in and breathing out…
“Is she breathing too loud maybe? Are the others getting disturbed by the sound? Or are they breathing just as loud?”
She holds her breath for a few seconds trying to listen to the others. And while she senses the consciousness wander out of her body towards the others and the room as a whole, she simultaneously feels a deep palpable silence. She tries to hold her breath for a little longer to stay in the sensation. It feels like time has stopped.
The sound of the others breathing is like gusts of wind through a meadow reminding her of the same stillness that surrounds a sleeping new born baby. It’s like….
There she goes again. Enganging with her thoughts. A little irritated but also relieved by getting a glimpse of something different, she returns to the assignment. The stillness and a sense of time being stopped is now dangling in front of her like a carrot, encouraging her to keep going. She wonders if she can evoke that same sensation again, and starts doing the same thing that enabled it last time. Breath in…. breath out…. breath in…. Breath out… breath in…. Breath out…. And hold the breath….
“Yes, there it is again!”, she thinks excitedly.
“Is this the same experience that Kjetil had when he first arrived at the monastery? What makes a young man want to go to a monastery?”, she thinks and imagines Kjetil as a young, frustrated man.
But before she’s able to indulge the thought further in her imagination, she’s being interrupted by a soft tone from a brass bowl. After three long tones, Kjetil explains with a calm voice that the session is over and that they’re due back tomorrow morning at 7am. Before he lets them out of the room, he goes on to remind them of respecting each others silent introspection.
Not a word is uttered amongst them.
Ingerid suddenly feels an urge to talk to someone. She wishes she knew what the others had experienced. Did they have similar challenges? Similar thoughts? Did they find it hard to keep from engaging with their thoughts too? Did they discover that it was easier to experience silence by holding their breath? Had they sensed a deep calm too? How was this exercise to them? What was their experience? Maybe they had a completely different experience? Maybe she hadn’t done the task correctly? Maybe she had missed something? Maybe she had misunderstood something?
She gazes at the others trying to look for an indication of cohesion. A communion. But everyone looks down. Everyone is absorbed by their own thoughts. Everyone seems to be respecting each others distance and only briefly engaging through eye contact if needed when surpassing one another in staircases and hallways. The situation is starting to feel more and more absurd, and Ingerid senses a frustration building up inside.
“Why can’t they be able to talk to each other? What can possibly be wrong with that? These rules are really sick! This is just stupid”, she thinks while frowning as she’s walks up the stairs.
What is she doing here anyways? The reason she came was to understand the less fortunate in order to become a better lawyer in the future. And does what they’re doing at the moment have anything to do with that? Maybe she should just pack her bags and leave. This probably leads nowhere. What could she possibly get out of this workshop if they’re just supposed to sit quietly by themselves for the whole weekend? She isn’t even able to follow the simple task anyways, so this must be something she’s really bad at. Maybe the other ones are able to follow it to a tee and thinks it’s really easy to concentrate and focus only on their breath. Maybe she’s the only one who thinks this is hard?
”This probably isn’t for me”, she thinks and walks towards the bedroom ready to pack her things and leave tomorrow morning.
As she opens the door to the room, she’s met by a friendly smile from one of the women in the group who is taking clothes out of her bag. The woman finds a notepad and writes LINE. She turns the paper 180 degrees towards Ingerid while giggling and pointing at herself. Ingerid smiles and with her mouth shapes “hi” without making a sound. She then writes her own name on the same page and shows it to Line who returns the smile. They stand there for a few seconds as frozen in a space of kindness, compassion and understanding. The desire to start a conversation is intensely present, but they both know the rules and neither dare to break them out of respect for one another. Line brings her hands together in front of her chest and bows while lowering her gaze. Ingerid returns the gesture and slowly backs out of the room with a warm smile.
There it was. The sensation she realised she’d been missing. The simple feeling of belonging through a connection and understanding with some of the other members of the group.
She peacefully walks down the stairs to the cosy living room and sits down next to a few women by the fireplace. With relaxed eyes gazing into the fire, they enjoy a cup of tea in silence together. And without even realising it, Ingerid’s thoughts about leaving the next morning has left just as easily and swiftly as they came. At least for now.
… to be continued…