Spending those first 72 hours in silence seemed like a daunting and ridiculous idea. But my dear, introverted friend suggested that sustained silence might be more difficult for extroverts than introverts. This novel perspective compelled me to register for my first silent retreat, from a Thursday to Sunday at the end of one chilly March. In a small town in northern Michigan, I met the woman who became my interspiritual guide for many years beyond that first retreat. Silence would be the seed that influenced my life-long attention to the contemplative life.
During the first evening, thirty retreatants sat in a circle to set intentions and learn the ground rules. “What do you want the silence to do for you?” That was one of our first questions. I naively imagined that I’d take time to consider my entire life up to this point. My contemplation would consist of asking questions of myself, seeking answers, interpreting experiences. All in 72 ordinary hours.
After my first nap, it was time for dinner. The retreatants and I entered the dining room, took a food tray and all the necessary utensils, and walked through a buffet line. Celtic harp and hammered dulcimer music was playing on the speakers, and no one was talking, asking questions, or processing. Three or four of us sat around a round table and ate our meal in silence. I heard forks scraping on teeth, knives clinking on the plates, shoes rustling underneath the tables, and my own inner chatter. Everyone seemed quite focused on their meal, but my eyes were wandering around the room to see what people were doing. How they were doing. Why they were doing. I chewed my food slowly and began to notice and savor how the flavors of the chicken and vegetables and rice all tasted together. While grazing, my eyes continued to gaze around the room for a shared glance, a sign that I was not alone. When I finished, I went back to the buffet line for a piece of chocolate cake. After I ate that, I went back up to get a cup of tea. Anything to pass the time. Twenty protracted minutes went by, and I made my way to my room. I was feeling satisfied. Yet exceptionally lonesome.
As it turns out, I made it through those first of many several day periods of continual silence. During my extended weekend, I spent a lot of time in my cell of a room. I tested my span of focused concentration while seated on the floor with its thin, brown carpet, I lay on the twin bed with my long legs dangling off the end, and I rested on the sumptuously cushioned recliner from the 1ate 1970s. Stories from growing up surfaced that were previously forgotten. I made peace with some of them through tears. Some memories I saved to contemplate later, or perhaps I waited until the next extended period of silence. It took some time, but I began to experience solitude for the first time. The memories that emerged became an instrument for further introspection, and for the first time I began to see that my fears may have been getting in the way of me listening to life’s signs that were pointing the way.
Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD.
We are pleased to introduce the first of many podcasts for your learning and enjoyment. Our aim is to enlighten you about the many facets of spiritual guidance, both receiving it and offering it. We also hope that these interviews of a more personal nature will help you get to know us better.
As I sit in the non-violent communication (NVC) training, I am pondering any difficulties that I have with anyone who is not like me. I ask myself if there are individuals or groups of which I’ve made “static assessments” or written off because their differences seem too great for me to resolve. According to NVC, every action an enemy takes is an expression of feelings and needs. When my needs are critically unmet, I can make an enemy of others. Maybe I have lacked in historical competence because I do not know their cultural history. Or perhaps I lack understanding or hope for change.
Rather than humanizing the other, I have demonized and diminished them, creating distance between them and me. Accessing empathy and self-empathy lessens the distance and creates connection to meet both of our needs.
Non-violent communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. At once a communication practice, a spirituality practice, and a peace organization, NVC is deeply interspiritual. NVC practitioners see the other as sacred and having dignity; they see themselves in the same way. They practice mutual seeing – hearing each other at the core – and mutual assisting – giving and receiving without coercion and with freedom and gratitude.
The main intention of NVC is greater understanding and connection with the self and others related to needs. NVC defines needs as qualities that contribute to the flourishing of life – needs are ultimately the point of connection. A non-exhaustive list of needs has been created that fall under categories such as connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, meaning, and autonomy. The key is being aware of my needs, being aware of your needs, and believing and living like each of our needs matters.
NVC is an interspiritual practice that offers a way to communicate what is alive in me (self-expression), connect with what’s alive in me (self-connection), and connect with what’s alive in you (empathy). It is a movement away from judgments, labels, demands, no choices, and towards inter-connection and intra-connection.
Even though I don’t fully comprehend the depth of compassion that exists in me, in you, in the world, I believe that what is required in this new era is, as Wayne Teasdale wrote, for religious and spiritual traditions to “pool their treasures of the spirit”. To any historical or current enemy: What gem do you bring to our open table?
Jeanette Banashak, PhD., EdD.
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