By Melanie Schubert
When I was a child I used to play a game with a friend of mine, who speaks first, loses. I always won. I know there are quite a few people out there who enjoy talking a lot and rather have problems to be quiet. I also do value a good conversation a lot. So I do sometimes value silence.
When moving to China most of us left their social network of friends and family at home. On continues search to build up a new one we might hop from one party at your friend’s house to the next club night or social networking event. For most of us these occasions also do not only aim at finding new friends. Quite often there is a seamless transition between private and professional networking. Taking out your client for a dinner or searching looking for potential customers at one of the numerous networking parties are common activities for most of us, too. In any of these occasions we will find us talking to people. If we are lucky it will turn out as an interesting chat discovering we indeed might have something in common. But most of the times these small talks will follow the same scheme. We will hear us talking about what we are doing in Shanghai and how long we are already here. Right, Chinese people are spitting everywhere and well sometimes they do eat chicken feet. Oh yes, and the traffic and the air pollution – so annoying! After a while I was really tired of myself always repeating the same phrases, seriously wondering if I still meant what I was actually saying or if I was just replaying an old tape again and again.
Besides, the idea of not being allowed to speak for a certain period of time had already fascinated me for a long time. I still remember one article about a lady spending one week in a monastery obeying to strict rules of daily routine, diet and a vow of silence. I have been always curious about the feeling that kind of at least periodic lifestyle will trigger in you. Giving your mind the opportunity to have a rest from social daily life -let it be real or media based – how it will change your perception of yourself and the world around you? Will it make you slow down? Give you access to a more real you? Allow you to get in touch with your actual dreams and desires and let you come up with new ideas?
So having a friend of mine telling me about these organized weekend trips to a Buddhist temple close to Shanghai, which besides practicing yoga and meditation require a vow of silence, sounded really appealing to me. And I was ready to give it a try.
With the date of the trip finally arriving I found myself within a group of eight, mostly female people. It turned out that the vow of silence was not compulsory but I and some other like-minded still voluntary obliged for the coming one and a half day. The first day started with an early 5-o’clock-in-the-morning-rise followed by the first meditation practice. During the meditation we were required to focus on our reason for joining this trip, let it be a desired change of life, finding a new and healthy way of dealing with our current life or simply the need to calm down and relax. I quickly dug up my one and happily joined the meditation, which after half an hour left me in a very peaceful state of mind. The day went on with strenuous yoga practices, interrupted by simple meals and an afternoon walk. Tired and with aching muscles everybody headed straight to bed right after finishing the last session in the early evening. The second day consisted of meditation followed by yoga as well, luckily with our teacher having mercy on our aching bones to a softer degree only. Eventually it was time to leave our shelter, heading backwards to Shanghai and getting ready to resume our daily lives.
When looking back this trip made me realize several things. For the first time in my life I had followed a vow of silence even it was only for a short time. Not talking can make you feel a bit disabled when it comes to simple daily communication, as for example who is first using the bathroom or letting your friends know your plan for the remaining afternoon. But it may also feel as a relief when it comes to the obligatory social chit chat. When sharing the meals with my fellow yoga-enthusiasts it would have been – under normal circumstances – expected to have a talk. But now I was required to remain silent. I didn’t need to share my life story or to comment on my neighbor’s one. There wasn’t even a debate on today’s weather required in order to finish the meal. I could simply sit down and enjoy the meal. The freedom or lets better say the social acceptance to do so felt great. But still, so finally did the freedom to break my vow in the afternoon of the second day and get into the game again. After spending all this time with my yoga-mates in silence, I was seriously interested to get to know who they are and what made them to join this weekend. Having this experience in common actually helped to quickly pass by the compulsory introduction and learn something about your counterpart which you won’t forget that easily.
Furthermore it is true – a vow of silence especially when combined with meditation will give you the possibility to enhance your focus. In everyday life we tend to escape from the things we actually should have a closer look. There is always the next e-mail or message to reply, a new episode of our favorite TV series is waiting for us or the next social event is calling us to join. Sometimes these activities keep us busy and away from unpleasant questions bothering us. For me it has been basic questions about my future life. I wanted to change. The feeling of being stuck in a dead-end street made me feel a stronger and stronger urge stronger every day. But what is the life I want to have instead? What does make me happy? When picturing myself in 30 years what would make me fulfilled and proud when looking back? What is my contribution to this world supposed to be? And why my love life doesn’t make any turn? Are the messages I am sending out and what I am really looking for the same? What kind of partner and relationship I am actually looking for?
Even a weekend of silence might not be enough to just come up with a spiritual enlightenment. But it does provide a great opportunity to escape the distraction of a buzzing city life, spend some time with only yourself and focus on finding answers to some re-occurring questions in your life. At least I think I got the answers to mine.