The Sounds of Silence.

It’s been quite a while since I have written a blog, what better way to break my silence than with this one.

First of all Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2014 is a fulfilling special year for all.

When we arrived back in France it was a bit of a shock to come back to the quiet of our small village after three weeks driving around, visiting family and friends, taking trains and just immersing ourselves in many things New York. It usually takes a small adjustment period before I fall yet once again into the groove of our chosen lifestyle; chopping wood, lighting wood-burning stoves, and riding bicycles to get around locally.

This year my adjustment period was cut short as I left in mid-January to a small retreat center north of Barcelona for ten days of silence and meditation.

“Joe silent for ten days,” some might be saying to themselves, not speaking yes, but silent well that’s another thing. Our minds are incredible companions. Not always the accompaniment we might want, but nonetheless always there willing to put its two cents in.

On arrival to the center surrounded by low mountains and awash in sunshine my friend Michael and myself were eager to begin. It was a bit strange meeting new people and chatting for an hour or so then settling into our dormitories knowing shortly afterwards we would be taking a vow of silence and spending the next ten days not speaking or making any sort of eye or body contact with those same people.

The idea is to get into (or actually out of) your own head. The first day or two it seems strange avoiding your fellow meditators, but the discipline and new-found personal space really helps for the challenges which lie ahead.

Discipline comes in other forms as well. Awakening at 4 a.m. and meditating for two hours before the 6:30 morning meal is not my usual routine, but for ten days it would be. After breakfast and a small rest more meditation is on the way. The final meal of the day is served at 11 a.m. You may think that food becomes an obsession, but instead it takes its place in the background and for me never became an issue. A piece of fruit at 5 p.m. for the first-time students was allowed, along with a hot drink. As the day’s chitter chatter was internal, keeping your mind from running away with crazy thoughts past present or future was a job more daunting then my recent foray into plumbing in our Rayburn stove.

The fellow meditators were a mixed crowd of people ranging in age from mid-twenties to sixty or so. It was lovely to see this melange of people from all over the world converge in this small retreat center to try and find inner-peace. If you read the newspapers, or follow the news and sign the constant in-flow of petitions cramming your inbox you might think the world has lost its compassion. Yes maybe a small percentage has, but with those I was surrounded by for the next ten days, some physically suffering from the silence and discipline of the retreat, I felt rejuvenated by my fellow man. We were all here to better understand ourselves, find our place in the world, and hopefully be a spark of love, peace and hope that we can all be forgiven for thinking has abandoned planet earth. Well it hasn’t!

Mid-week some of the mental clatter just disappeared. Rewriting past scenarios or walking down different paths in years gone by is quite a futile exercise and wastes our mental space. On the day I was able to turn off the mind games from the past my walks in the garden and sitting meditations were done with a much clearer head. I was glad to have lost my noisy companions. Far from enlightened, I lost just a small load of mental baggage.

The techniques we were learning to quieten our mind were working. At first we focused on the breath, then started to scan our bodies. I won’t get into technical details of Goenka’s Vipassana lineage or certain style of teaching, that can be found on the internet. All I can say is that for ten days I was transported to a different world. Ten days cut off from all technology and news, eating, living and walking in silence is something not many of us get to experience in our lives.

The days spent in meditation were quite difficult for me. I am a doer. My hands and mind are busy most of the time. I have calmed down over the years, geography plays a large part in that, but ten days looking inward, and using my hands to only eat, drink, and perform my daily ablutions was a completely new experience. My body went through it’s normal rhythms, but my head was thrown for a bumpy ride. Slowly over the ten days though, the present moment came into focus.

That precious moment, I learned, was the only thing that was real. My breathing a constant reminder I was alive, and my senses awakened to the fact that all else is just chatter taking me away from the powerful moment of now.

I sometimes created scenarios in my head that were possible ways out of the retreat center back to “The Real World”, but when I saw the mind games for what they were, I was entertained constantly by its cleverness to try and trick me, frighten me and feed my ego. Once I came to a quiet space I had to laugh out loud, and after seven days of silence even my own laugh startled me.

On day ten when the silence was over and I got to ‘meet’ my other companions on our separate journeys, it was interesting. Many of the pre-judgements based on looks, dress, or habits I observed over the ten days were proven wrong. Yet another life lesson.

Much else was learned over those ten days. Taking time out to smell the roses and when possible sit with myself to quiet down the mental chatter were two of the most obvious. I try to remain mindful in my lifestyle, but realised more fully in that quiet time, that it’s a full time job. If we were all just that bit more mindful of our lifestyles we would see many of our personal problems melt away, and yes, many of our planet’s problems as well.

The one big lesson I learned was to never give up hope in our humaness. My sixty-four fellow travelers were all looking for something, and it wasn’t money or the best deal on the next materialistic purchase. It was far more ethereal than that, unobtainable? That is unanswerable. People go on similar retreats available world-wide to find solace in our busy technologically-orientated world, this fills me with joy. Many say technology will answer the problems we will face in the future, I beg to differ.

We have the answers, they are buried deep. Time looking inward to find them and a sincere love of life and respect for the home we call earth is a good start. To all who share this precious gift at this moment in time with me I say, “Never give up the power we all have in us and were born with. Our human side is most wonderful when we nurture it with love, peaceful thoughts, and respect for all living beings around us.”

Those ten days were just a small look into a space I ignore too often. I try to sit in stillness in the morning and it feels good. I know ten days of silence may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but that doesn’t mean mindfulness and respect for the right of all living beings to be happy can’t happen. It can, and we all have the ability to make it happen together.

Much Peace, Joe

I leave you with my daughter’s current favourite song, a bit old I know, but timeless in it’s message.

About thebikeguy61

I was born in The Bronx, in NYC. I traveled a fair bit of the world by bicycle for many years. In more recent years I have moved around Europe with my wife and 2 children. My first book was published in 2010, "Cycles of a Traveler". Back living in France after a fantastic voyage across America with my family. Next book on its way, and always more interviews to look forward to.
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6 Responses to The Sounds of Silence.

  1. David Murray says:

    Hi Joe , Nice choice of song . Actually I couldn’t catch all the lyrics so I googled them – very appropriate to your blog ! The questions asked in the song are the ones many if us ask all the time , and receiving no answer begin to despair of the human race . Why ? why ? why ?
    Why do we do behave so ? Why do we hate , discriminate , and get irate ? Where is the love ?
    It would appear that we’ve been behaving like this since time began and it would appear that we’ll continue until time ends . So why ? What makes our species so different from other animals ?
    My dog lives totally in the present and is totally honest and she loves me unconditionally . If only we could be like that ! What stops us is the huge brain we have with it’s incessant chatter about how to behave , how to look good in the eyes of others , how to fear the future and how to regret the past , how to preserve ourselves and how to fear anything different . We are led to believe that having this mental capacity that sets us apart from other animals is a ‘good thing’ as it has enabled us to invent all sorts of wonderful things to improve our environment and our comfort . But actually I think it’s a handicap – my dog just ‘ is ‘ , we have to be doing this doing that doing the other in order to keep our minds busy . What is it we fear if we stop ?
    So having identified the handicap how do we deal with it ? How to tame this galloping wild ‘I’ness
    which lives inside us ?
    I’ve just finshed reading Hermann Hesse’s ‘ Siddhartha ‘ for the second time ( the first time was over 40 years ago ! ) and this time it had so much more meaning for me . The one thing in the novel which impressed me the most was the idea of loving even a stone in the street . What ? love a stone ? That impressed me because if we can love a stone then loving each other is child’s play.
    So , thank you Joe for your blog . Keep on asking the questions . And to those who are ‘ seeking
    an answer ‘ I would say stop seeking , just be present ,open up your heart , and love .


    • Sam T says:

      Hi Dave and Joe. I have read both of your messages and concur. I feel much joy and appreciation for having met you both on this great journey, the countenance is nothing short of amazing really. After sitting the Vipassana course i truly felt like i had recieved a labotomy. The relative peace is wonderful and finds me in a place where i can actually listen and sometimes hear what is really being said. I have been meditating now for nearly two years, with varying degrees of satisfaction. However as all things change i will persevered, i am present enough to be shedding my expectations constantly. I am becoming like Dave,s dog, love for all that sustains me only with awareness of breath. Gratitude is a large part of my source of joy. This amazing time right now is the only place to be. What the rest of the world wants is not of concern to me anymore, aaahhh the freedom from the burden of universal suffering. I have become closer to all beings as i see we are all trapped in the universal mind. I forgive myself, hence i can forgive all others, shedding self judgement, i can work at not judge others. I recieved this quote from my sister recently, beginning to understand that serenity does come to us all, some of us just have to stop breathing first. “Everyone who terrifies you is sixty percent water. And everyone you love is made of stardust, and i know sometimes you cannot even breath deeply, and the night sky is no home, and you have cried yourself to sleep enough times that you are down to your last two percent, but nothing is infinite, not even loss.
      You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day you are going to find yourself again”. (F. Butler)
      Love peace and happiness to you both.

      Sam Thompson


  2. thebikeguy61 says:

    Thanks for sharing that David.

    Yes I am finding more and more living in the present and finding “The Love” is the way to a bright and beautiful future.

    Peace, Joe


  3. Amanda Thompson says:

    Love your words, they always have so much love and depth, and leave me feeling uplifted with a smile. Remembering to breathe deep and be in the present is ongoing but one I am making myself aware off. Love and smiles to the family xoxo Amanda x


  4. thebikeguy61 says:

    Thanks Amanda.

    Hope all is going well with you and yours down in Tassie. All well here. Your ‘house on the hill’ has changed occupants a few times, but still has the lovely view that always brings you into that supreme wonderful moment of beauty we’re so lucky to live in.

    Love to the family.

    Peace, Joe


  5. Welcome back. Wow. what a shock that must have been but a good one, from NY to silence. Don’t think I could do it.


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