My practice for the last few months has been one day a week of complete silence. I can engage with others and actively listen but speaking is forbidden, which proved hard in the new environment I was in.
Koh Phangan is an active community of spiritual seekers, the type of people who make eye contact with you on the street and approach you immediately. I was doing my day of silence on a Saturday, arguably the most social day of the week. Beaches were crowded, streets were filled with half-naked foreigners clinging to their motorbikes.
People often ask me why I stay silent one day a week. One day a week of silence gives me the ability to be the observer. When people talk to me I can actually listen and not be in a reactive state of simply wanting to reply. Since I know I cannot respond my mind is empty when the other person speaks to me. I can sit with another being and really hear them. The silence also helps me gain new insights into human behavior. I see everything unfolding around me and say nothing.
On this silent Saturday, my couch surfing host drove us to a “secret” beach. After a ten minute hike through the forest, the path cleared and the most spectacular beach I had seen on the island met my eyes. A sand-colored cliff stood proudly over the water. Gentle waves were lapping the shore rhythmically as deeply tanned girls waded into the welcoming water. This beach was obviously not that secret. Beautiful people were everywhere.
A group of hippies were dancing as a man with a neon-colored afro held a boombox above his head. A naked girl wearing only a snorkeling mask smiled at me and I waved. I felt a pang of sadness witnessing so many fascinating people I could not speak with. This was the first party I had seen in Koh Phanghan and I could not communicate. Instead of dancing, I decided to test the water. I took my time, taking small steps and drinking in the view. The ocean’s touch felt lukewarm like when you soak in a nice bath after a long day. My body relaxed and I treaded water gingerly.
A couple was splashing near me, smiling and laughing. The man looked over at me and our eyes connected. He beamed delightedly, “would you like to do an underwater dance workshop with us”. I nodded. He continued to ask questions and I nodded or shook my head in response. “Are you deaf?” asked the girl. I shook my head no. “Are you mute?” asked the man. Again, I shook my head no. I did the namaste sign to them and zipped my lips shut as my symbol of silence. “Ahh, I see” replied the couple.
The man came over to me as I floated on my back. “Every time I hold the back of your neck and shake it this means to loosen your body, pretend you are a seaweed swaying with the pull of the tides”. I smiled and nodded. He pulled and gently swayed my body under the water, I felt my neck relax and I completely surrendered to this strange man.
I closed my eyes and listened to the calmness of the water. Any time I was running out of air he instinctively pulled me to the surface and I drank in oxygen. I reveled in the flexibility and beauty of my human vessel. Being a woman I have always felt connected to the feminine aspect of water nourishing and bestowing life. This underwater dance brought me closer to my divine femininity. Certain experiences like this just had to be felt, words are limiting. I was glad I could not speak, it would not have done any justice.
Instead of verbalizing my appreciation, we held each other tightly. I felt his heart beating against mine and his warmth radiating onto me like the sun. This man embraced my silence in a way no others before him had. We had a whole day of nonverbal communication. He introduced me to his friends who asked me about my life story. I did an interpretive dance for them; crawling, rolling, jumping, swaying. They all responded in their own form of dance, nobody speaking a word. When we went back to shore we joined the dance party. I let my body speak for me.
After hours of nonverbal communication, the man held me softly by the hand and told me he will be leaving tomorrow for France. I felt tenderly toward him, and we exchanged contact information. Being a constant traveler I am used to saying goodbyes, but this was different. With him life was full of games and spontaneity, I wanted to be a part of his world for a longer period of time. One day was not enough. We kissed sweetly and said goodbye.
The next morning I received a text from him asking to meet for breakfast. It was no longer my silent Saturday so I could speak, I wondered if our bond would not be as special with the presence of words. He picked me up and we sat together for a banana mango smoothie. “So today I am not leaving for France and you are one of the reasons why. I feel that we share something rare and I want to explore whatever it is. I propose that you live with me and we see what happens.” I agreed.
It has been a month and a half of us living together on this beautiful island in Thailand, and every day gets better. He and his best friend have joined me for one silent day a week and they too have reaped the benefits of new genuine connections and exploring the world as an observer.
When we are not silent we practice radical honesty, speaking only when it is necessary and using words as a source of nourishment. When we are silent together our silences are comfortable, with him there is no need to fill the void with frivolous words.
The other day we were talking by the ocean and he told me “I loved you immediately in your silent state because you were so completely vulnerable. Every emotion showed on your face. You did not need to use your rational mind as a guard. You did not need to fill the space with words. Your body language spoke for you. Your eyes told me you loved me too before your mouth could form the words. I hope you always stay vulnerable and open even when you use words.”
That has been my intention. To use words as carefully and thoughtfully as possible, not to hide behind but to express. Silence has become a good friend and helped me to say less and embody more. Silence has taught me that communication is so much more than verbal. It is the way your energy speaks before you do and the manner in which you demonstrate love.