Embracing silence

I went on a writing retreat this weekend: escaped the city and headed north, into Ontario’s Muskoka region. Stayed in a gorgeous cottage on the edge of a still lake, and soaked in the autumnal splendour. It was the perfect space to reconnect with my writing.

One of the key aspects of this retreat was a lot of silence. Each morning our group woke, ate breakfast, and began work in silence. On Saturday afternoon we had a great expanse of silent working time. (Well, ok, it was 3 hours, but it felt like an expanse to me).

Silence is sometimes difficult for me. I have what I call a “busy brain” so that if I’m not listening to something (music, radio, TV, podcast) I find it hard to tune out my thoughts/worries and just be. I spend the majority of my non-work life surrounded by noise: from when I’m taking a shower, to cooking, to falling asleep, I’m usually listening to something.

Even though I’d been through this retreat process before, I was a little anxious on Friday before setting off for the retreat. How was I going to disconnect myself from the internet and my phone? How was I going to fill so much silent space?

Of course, as soon as I was curled up on the screen porch, wrapped in blankets and listening to the sounds of lapping water and shivering leaves, I was in heaven. I spent long periods staring out over the water, letting my thoughts drift.

And this is where the writing comes from.

In that 3 hour period I wrote over 15 pages in my notebook. Once I settled into the silence, allowed my busy brain the space to run riot, the ideas came. It was one of the most intense, and most satisfying, writing experiences of my life. Y’know that writers block thing?

One of the interesting things I noticed about this retreat was that by the last day I couldn’t get the ideas down fast enough: I longed for more silence so that I could capture every idea, every snippet of dialogue that suddenly sprang to mind.

Earlier this year I wrote about the need for us to allow ourselves get bored in order to engage creativity: this weekend made me realize that I also need to try and build some silence into my life too. I’ve been so focussed on creating distractions that I didn’t realize that one of the things I’ve been distracting myself from is my ideas and creativity. Whoops!

So I’m now going to try and actively create some silent and reflective time into my life. Of course, its a bit more difficult to do in the midst of life and the city – sadly, I can’t always be on the edge of a serene lake. But I’m going to work at finding some spaces in the city that might let me capture some of that magic – let’s see where it takes me…

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