My teenage daughter tells me for her Social Psychology class she has been instructed to break a social norm. She asked me if I had any good ideas, any good stories about breaking social norms.
I think for a moment, and a memory pops in my mind.
A time I was completely quiet, when normally, speaking would have been the acceptable thing to do.
I say “how about the simple social norm of being polite to strangers by talking and responding to their questions?”
She asks me what I mean, and I tell her about this time I kept a vow of silence for 24 hours.
I was enrolled in a workshop.
We meditated a lot in this workshop, but for this particular exercise, we were going to be out in the world during our silence.
Meaning, no talking AT ALL for 24 hours, not to one single person. Not one word. Nada. Nothing.
No writing on pieces of paper, either, what you wanted to say.
The invitation was Do Not Communicate with words of any kind.
I remember at the time of that workshop, I really wanted to do the exercise. I wanted to do it right. I wanted to make absolutely sure I did not utter or write one word, and see what it was like.
I shared with my daughter that when I was in the middle of this vow of silence day out, everyone participating in the workshop had an entire afternoon in a fairly dense urban area. We could do anything we wanted. Except talk. Or write. For about six hours.
So I was just walking around, sitting and staring at things, hanging out on a bench, looking at buildings, walking again, watching people who went by, lying down on the grass and closing my eyes, then getting up and walking again.
I had some nervous energy like “when is this going to be over” and “am I supposed to be understanding something big and cosmic right now in this silent space” and “who the heck cares about all this” and “I am going to do this perfectly”.
The time was going by excruciatingly s-lllll-oooooo-wwwwwww.
This was way worse than sitting in silent meditation.
Then, I was simply in my chair, watching thought, feeling deeply relaxed energy, falling into a sort of bliss I often dropped into when in silent close-eyed meditation.
This open-eyed walking-around meditation was different. Not exactly so comfortable or easy. My mind was racing.
Then, there was a dreaded moment.
It was during one of my “walking” sprees.
I had come across a huge storefront window, a wide open sidewalk rolling out in front of me. I paused at this window, seeing movement within.
There were people gathered inside in a circle. It looked like a store for massage tables and indoor waterfalls or something (never did figure that out). People were receiving massages on those upright massage chairs. Suddenly a man looked up and walked towards the door out, as if he saw me through the window.
Wait. Is he coming out to talk to me?
I’m in SILENCE. OMG, this is going to be terrible!! I can’t talk!!
And yes, he is leaning out the door just past this big window and now he is saying “Do you want to come in? We’re having a free demonstration class today!”
I stare at him. Mute.
I’m thinking “he’s going to think I’m a freak.”
He asks me again….”Would you like to participate? Come join us?” and he beckons towards the inside.
I stare at him.
Unable to say a word.
I am going to keep this damn vow of silence if it kills me….that is….if it makes me a complete fool in front of strangers.
Which it is doing, right now.
There’s a quiet space, for a long pause, between us.
He starts to go back inside and let the door shut behind him.
That was so embarrassing. I guess. Jeez. He must think I’m a moron.
I start to leave, continuing my walk, recognizing how much internal mental noise has been created from this one small exercise about keeping silence.
Then this guy opens up the door again and leans out and calls to me.
“Hey, I gotta question for you….have you taken a vow of silence?”
I turn around and grin.
Our eyes lock.
Then we both turn away, him headed back inside the store (or whatever that was) and me on my way up the sidewalk, giggling to myself and shaking my head at discovering I am not a fool after all, and how funny life on the planet is indeed. How connected we all are.
My daughter, upon hearing the whole entire story, says “well….duh.Of course he knew you must had taken a vow of silence. I mean, you were probably all flustered and acting shy and worried in your reaction and he figured it out super easily. It’s not like some big discovery or anything. Jeez!”
So then, even me having a great story about my revelation on the day-of-the-vow-of-silence thing is dashed to pieces, too.
Foolish. The way of it.
Much love, Grace