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The Sanctuary of Silence
Autumn is here, urging us to slow down and to listen to our bodies and the earth
Field Notes on Flourishing is a free monthly love letter exploring art, mindfulness, creativity, and the question of flourishing — by Ludi Leiva.
Time of writing: Monday, September 19, 2022 15:06 CEST
Physical Environment: Clouds, light rain. Southeast winds. 12° C/ 53° F
Observations: Outside the window, two birch trees and four pine trees are swaying in the breeze. The leaves of the birch trees are beginning to yellow.
It feels like autumn came overnight up at the 59th parallel where I currently live.
The sweet humidity of the summer air is already a memory, replaced by the unmistakable crispness of fall. I suspect the birds have started making their way down towards Africa, and the leaves on the trees are quickly turning shades of yellow, orange, and red. This week, heavy rains awakened mushrooms in the cool, damp woods.
In summer, the world vibrates with energy and vitality—everything is alive with possibility. And while it can be sad to say goodbye, autumn serves an important purpose: to help us find spiritual steadiness and quiet resilience in preparation for winter. It urges us to begin slowing down and to listen to our bodies and the earth.
I’m about to go on my first-ever silent meditation retreat and I have been feeling nervous.
I have practiced meditation for years now, but this is the most challenging thing I’ve done. What will it be like to spend four days in silence? To spend several hours a day in meditation? What will happen when the things I typically keep at bay with life’s busyness are given the chance to bubble up to the surface of my awareness?
As these questions play over and over again in my mind, I have had to be honest with myself: it is easier for me to speed up than to slow down, to give into noise rather than silence.
Most days when I sit down to work, I pop headphones into my ears or turn on speakers and play music. Actually, I never leave the house without headphones; if I’m caught commuting without them, I panic a little. While in others’ company, I sometimes feel we’re bound by an unspoken obligation to fill the space between us with words. Even when I go out into nature near my home, I’m often in conversation or listening to something. Sound, I’ve realized, is my near-constant companion.
Gordon Hempton, a musician and sound ecologist, reminded me on a podcast (link below) that there is actually no such thing as pure silence. Everything—even air molecules—is imbued with inherent sound and so silence is, technically speaking, nonexistent. I suppose, then, that seeking out silence isn’t so much a material pursuit as it is a spiritual one. At least to me, the point isn’t to search for a lack of noise but to embrace what’s intrinsic in a moment with attention and reverence. It’s about taking an experience in without drowning it out with music, conversation, or other distractions, but instead giving myself fully to it.
“I suppose, then, that seeking out silence isn’t so much a material pursuit as it is a spiritual one.”
I’ve been wrestling with some uncomfortable emotions lately: As much as I love the changing seasons, knowing a long, dark, Scandinavian winter is on its way makes me uneasy (which reminds me, I need to find my Vitamin D drops). My MFA thesis project is looming, and I recognize the anxiety rising up in me as I take on the largest scope art project I’ve ever attempted. My birthday is weeks away, a reminder that time is always slipping through my fingers. I even spent the last month anxiously debating whether or not to actually start this newsletter.
It is easier to keep my mind and hands busy in order to distract myself from the heavy feelings that come to visit. But instead, in the coming weeks I want to challenge myself to lean in the opposite direction: to slow down, get quiet, and let the feelings come. To acknowledge their presence and sit with them instead of dialing up the volume to drown them out. To, as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen” to me.
And to remember that silence is a sanctuary that is always available.
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Peek into my sketchbook and notes:
Mary Lattimore “West Kensington’ (Album)
Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies I read this book recently and it was an incredible meditation on home, the natural world, and the housing crisis. I couldn’t put it down.
You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis This book is a moving depiction of a cross-country bike tour spurred by a difficult time in Davis' life. It's drawn like a sketchbook, which gives it an intimate and honest feel. Highly recommend.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke This is a must-read. Strongly suggest picking this one up if you haven’t yet. I come back to it every year or so and find new wisdom every time.
The Creative Independent’s Interview with Author Lillian Li On setting aside space for creativity and dealing with distractions in a hectic world.
For books, I link to GoodReads: the second drop-down menu under the book image has links to buy or borrow. I encourage you to find books at your local library or bookstore instead of on Amazon.
Sending you a virtual hug ✨
If you have time today, take a little walk and spend some time with the trees, acknowledging the leaves that will soon be gone. Or just get quiet for a minute and reflect on whether you can carve out some more space in your life to slow down and just be with what is.
Your being here supports my art and writing practice and means the world to me, thank you.
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