Why My Family Takes a Thanksgiving Vow of Silence

nina-li-coomes

For many years, my family took a vow of silence over Thanksgiving, retreating to a Catholic seminary perched on a small lake in Libertyville, Illinois. The rules of the Thanksgiving Silent Retreat were simple: no talking, no reading, no watching TV or listening to music. We were allowed to draw, or write, or play the grand piano in the pink-carpeted seminary lounge, but were not to bring books or use our laptops or phones. […]

Consider the Thanksgiving table, groaning under the weight of abundance: jeweled cranberries winking in orange-spiced syrups; the skin of the turkey rubbed and brined and roasted to crispy perfection; mounds of potatoes fluffed into chive-flecked clouds; green beans and stuffing and marshmallow-topped yams. Circling these dishes, the yawning promise of empty plates, and yet—above the whole table floats a cottony haze of silence. No one speaks. No one asks you to pass the salt, to refill the wine. What would that be like? How do you think you might feel and exist in that silent, still place?

Click here for the punch line and the entire story: Why My Family Takes a Thanksgiving Vow of Silence by Nina Li Coomes.

It’s been a long day

luci d'inverno

The blue river is grey at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.

~ Jack Gilbert, “Waking at Night” (The Greensboro Review, Fall 2008)


Notes:

 

It’s been a long day

Or was Mill concerned that, in a perfect world, with nothing more to strive for, we might simply grow bored? As the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once upliftingly put it, “life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom.” When we are not consumed by the desire to achieve something (food, shelter, companionship, wealth, career, status, social reform, etc.), we are tortured by boredom…

The answer, he discovered through reading Wordsworth, is to take refuge in a capacity to be moved by beauty — a capacity to take joy in the quiet contemplation of delicate thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings, not just titanic struggles…

I hope, and suspect, that Mill is right about this: that we all have the ability to find some durable joy in quietude, normalcy and contemplation. In our personal lives, and in our political lives too, it would be nice if we could escape Schopenhauer’s pendulum:

to simply enjoy where we are, at times; to find some peace in the cessation of motion…

~ Adam Etinson, from Is a Life Without Struggle Worth Living? (NY Times, October 2, 2017)


Notes: Photo: via bea’titudeRelated Posts: It’s been a long day

 

Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind.

Sometimes you trip into something, something that is so big, and so right (this Sunday morning), that you don’t want to soil it by sharing a few excerpts. (But I’m going to do it anyway, of course.) I urge you to listen to Krista Tippett’s entire 51 minute interview with Gordon Hempton where the conversation is sprinkled with Hempton’s nature recordings. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, a collector of sound all over the world. You can find the entire transcript and audio recording here: “Silence and the Presence of Everything.” I’ve shared a few passages below:

________

“OK. So I get out of my car, all right? We’ll still hear the pinging of its engine. We’ll hear other cars and other visitors, and we’ll hear the “beep-beep” of our modern world as people are locking their cars and the rustling of our artificial fabrics against our bodies. Some people will be chattering away on cell phones. But then the sound of my backpack goes over my shoulders, and we head off down the trail. And no more than 100 yards along these tall, tree-lined, ferned path with moss drapes that add sound-deadening to the experience, we’ll hear the call-off twitter of a Winter Wren, this very high-pitched twittering sound that might be coming from 100 feet away…And then we’ll hear further away the sound of the Hoh River that drains the Rain Forest echoing off the far side of the valley…And if we were taking this hike in the fall, we would hear the bugling of the Roosevelt elk… Up close, it’s actually quite a guttural, adrenalin-filled assertion of what it means to be male and wild. But when you hear this experience from a couple of miles away, isn’t that amazing? When you’re in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral. […]

Yeah. Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writing of John Muir, which he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat. […]

But I found the sound that I enjoyed most was the sound of the silence in the volcano. The measurement of decibels actually goes into the minus point, but there still is a sense of presence, of where you are. Then once you get over the rim of the volcano, you begin to pick up what I call the mantra of the islands, and that’s the distant beating of that drum called the Pacific Ocean. […]

We’re about to enter into a giant driftwood log. It’s a Sitka spruce log, the same material that’s used in the crafting of violins, and it has a special property where that, when the wood fibers are excited by acoustic energy — in this case, it’s the sound of the ocean itself — that the fibers actually vibrate. And inside, we get to listen to nature’s largest violin. […] [Read more…]

I have a room all to myself; it is nature.

Photo: A woman swims in Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., on what would have been the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau, author of the book ‘Walden.’ He was born on July 12, 1817. (Brian Snyder, Reuters, wsj.com July 12, 2017)


Post Title: Henry David Thoreau

 

It’s been a long day

Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night.

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland


Notes:

 

a fugitive breeze, a rustle of leaves, choral insects

Quiet, please.

In contrast to “Baby Driver,” with its high-decibel cacophony, this week also brings Patrick Shen’s “In Pursuit of Silence.” It isn’t really silence that’s being pursued in this beguiling, meditative and elegantly photographed documentary. As one murmuring head after another observes, absolute silence can’t be achieved in these earthly precincts, and doesn’t warrant chasing after in any case. What’s de-stressing for the body and nourishing for the soul is quiet that contains benign sounds—a fugitive breeze, a rustle of leaves, choral insects, a bird sending signals from the far reaches of a serene acoustic surround.  The film begins with a tribute to “4’33,” the seminal composition by John Cage in which music is not played—by a pianist, or a full orchestra—for the four minutes and 33 seconds of the title. In Mr. Shen’s evocative sequence, words are not spoken but, if you listen carefully, sounds of nature and even human laughter can be heard under—or over, or within? —a succession of graceful images.

~ Joe Morgenstern, from ‘In Pursuit of Silence’ Review: Dulcet Symphony. A meditative documentary explores quiet and the auditory world around us. (wsj.com, June 29, 2017)


Note: Rotten Tomatoes Movie Review

Saturday Morning


Bernard Toustrate wrote in the Forum Catholique, summarizing one degree of Sister Marie-Aimée’s “twelve degrees of silence” [Les Douze degrés du silence]: “If the tongue is mute, if the senses are calm, if the imagination, memory and creatures keep quiet and form a solitude, if not throughout the soul, then at least in the innermost part of it, then the heart will make only a few noises. Silence of one’s likes and dislikes, silence of desires insofar as they are too intense, silence of zeal insofar as it is indiscreet; silence of fervor insofar as it is exaggerated; silence to the point of sighing.

~ Cardinal Robert Sarah, excerpts from “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” (April, 2017).


Photo: Verwunschlicht

Yep…

33.

Today many people are drunk on speaking,
always agitated,
incapable of silence or respect for others.
They have lost their calm and dignity.

~ Cardinal Robert Sarah, from “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” (April, 2017).


Image: Observando via Kuanios

 

The glowing screens need a gargantuan diet

29. …The glowing screens need a gargantuan diet in order to distract mankind and destroy consciences….

43.  For some years now there has been a constant onslaught of images, lights, and colors that blind man. His interior dwelling is violated by the unhealthy, provocative images of pornography, bestial violence, and all sorts of worldly obscenities that assault purity of heart and infiltrate through the door of sight.

44. The faculty of sight, which ought to see and contemplate the essential things, is turned aside to what is artificial. Our eyes confuse day and night because our whole lives are immersed in a permanent light. In the cities that shine with a thousand lights, our eyes no longer find restful areas of darkness… To a large extent, humanity has lost an awareness of the seriousness of sin…

~ Cardinal Robert Sarah, excerpts from “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” (April, 2017).


Smartphone Gif Photo: Grizzly Street

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