Does silence make you uncomfortable?

Does silence make you uncomfortable? Sally shares her journey.I’ve been thinking about silence. Why there’s so little of it, and why so many choose to avoid what little there is. And most importantly, my own evolving relationship with it.

There are lots of studies about the harmful effects of noise. It raises our blood pressure, weakens our immune system, makes it hard for us to learn, undermines our emotional stability, and so on.

You’d think we would seek out silence. You’d think we’d crave it. Value it above gold. And while it’s generally true that wealthy people can choose to avoid living near noisy roads or train lines, few truly embrace quiet.

What are we afraid of?

Last year, when I told friends I’d registered for a 10-day silent meditation retreat, some flat out said, “I could never do that!” Others were okay with the idea of not speaking, then became sweaty and uncomfortable when they learned “silence” also meant abstaining from reading, writing, or going online.

This near-panic at the prospect of stillness raises the question, what are we afraid of?

Before the end of the third day of last year’s retreat, more than 10% of the attendees had quit and left. The day before the rest of us would leave, silence was lifted and conversations began. Some attendees related extreme experiences. One woman had cried herself to sleep every night. Another had had spontaneous past life regressions. But the most common experiences seemed to be anxiety and difficulty in quieting the mind.

Aside from some super-realistic, otherwise un-extraordinary dreams, my experience had no such drama. My body hurt like hell a couple of days from sitting in meditation. A couple of days I felt so bored I thought I’d shout “Are we done yet?” in the middle of a group sit.

Silence makes us confront our fear that we're unlikeable.Weirdly, the thing I found most difficult was avoiding eye contact with those sharing the retreat experience. Of course, that was part of the point of silence. In silence, we cannot compare our experience with anyone else’s. And in silence, we can’t drown our thoughts with words or music. We can’t escape ourselves.

Are you scary company?

Perhaps the prospect of being left to face our true self is what makes so many of us avoid silence. What if we don’t like what we find? What if, without the validation of other people, we discover we’re completely unlikeable? What then? How would we go on?

It can take awhile to learn to defuse our self-judgement, relax in our own company and release any tendency to measure our worth against the actions (and reactions) of others. I call this process “shoveling sh*t out of the engine room,” and I’ve been digging it for years.

Happily, there are lots of tools available today to help speed the process. An online search for “How to live in the present moment” turns up thousands of suggestions, resources and videos.

My summer of silent basking

This summer offered me a different kind of retreat. For two months, I lived outside a small town, house-sitting amidst five lushly wooded acres. My daily soundtrack: the fountain by the front door, the wind chimes in the backyard, my cat’s purr, the distant lowing of cattle that freely roamed the area. Visual noise is just as disruptive as sound.

No traffic sounds to speak of. No car alarms. No neighbors’ barking dogs, loud conversations or music. Most of the time, I was alone in a huge 6-bedroom house without so much as a single ticking clock or dripping faucet.

Heaven.

I slipped so easily into the bliss of my quiet surroundings, a trip to a nearby mega store nearly crushed me. The giant product displays, oversized banners shouting “Great Price!” in letters as tall as the length of my arm. The 50” TV screens showing the latest children’s film releases, while classic rock music hummed over the store’s sound system.

Make it stop!

I felt sick to my stomach. I urgently wanted to leave the store. In fact, by the time I rounded the frozen food aisles and headed for the checkout, I knew if I didn’t get out soon, I would descend into hiccuping tears like a frightened toddler.

How had I ever coped with my old life, I wondered, with all the big-box stores and traffic and daily noise? How could I possibly ever go back?

Perhaps I’ve learned too well the preciousness of silence, to be so sensitive to its disruption. But go back I did, back to big-city life. Back to traffic and ticking clocks and Facebook.

Embrace silence and know you're loved.It hasn’t been easy. I tire more easily, and must make allowances to take care of myself. I’ve loaded a white-noise app on my mobile electronics, which at least masks other sounds—I let it play while I’m sleeping. And when I get a quiet moment, I revel in it, free of to-do lists or food or phone calls. Just. Being.

How’s your relationship with silence? Do you seek it or shun it? What would you do if someone offered you a 10-day experience of silence? What about a 10-minute experience?

Is your reaction different than it would have been ten years ago? Hmm. Interesting how things change. Maybe you and silence are ready to take your relationship to a new level.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul.


Photo credit (shush): Mateus Lunardi Dutra

The pleasure of summer showers

Photo of Sally's tiny, candlelit bathroom.
My bathroom (only just slightly smaller than actual size)
Bathing by candlelight. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. It’s taken the heat of another Texas summer to bring me back to this simple, sensual pleasure.

Exchanging “get up & go…”

In the winter, I love basking in the morning sunlight that beams through the little window in my shower. It energizes me. When days are shortest, I want as much sun as I can get.

Right now, though, days stretch out in lazy splendor. They bring chlorine-dipped days at the pool, dirt-dusted arms and legs from working in the yard, and skin coated with SPF, insect repellent and plenty of sweat. It’s nice to rinse off in cool water before bed.

…for “get on my glow”

So I venture into my tiny bathroom and forgo the bright bathroom lights in favor of a few candles. Their glow filters through the translucent shower curtain. It’s moody and relaxing and eases me into sweet, summery dreams. Ahhhh. I love this time of year.

Do your habits change to reflect the season? What sensual pleasures are you celebrating?

When “good girls” go wild

Sally Felt models t-shirt reading, "Recovering Good Girl. Tempt me."Family expectations. Peer pressure. Poor self image. It’s easy to understand why so many of us wind up living life by someone else’s rules—being Good Girls. Do it long enough and it becomes a tough habit to break.

Ready to join Good Girls recovery?

Good girls don’t make demands or attract attention. Even the smallest steps toward independent self expression take courage. It feels like a crazy rebellion, rife with potential for dire consequences.

It helps to have a friend or role model who actively creates the life of her dreams. Someone to encourage us to say what we think and pursue what we want.

For Violet, the heroine of my sexy romance Going Native, it’s a free-spirited friend who lives the glamorous lifestyle of Violet’s dreams. In the book, Violet literally steps into her friend’s shoes for a month, learning what it feels like to live larger.

(Naturally, complications ensue. It’s a romantic comedy, after all.)

Bravery comes in all forms (and t-shirt sizes)

If you’re like me, still working to break the habit of second guessing yourself (or whatever Good Girl behavior is your personal bugaboo), I invite you to solicit support. Friends. Or a mentor.

Step out. Take a chance. Learn what sets you on fire. You are the only you the world will ever know (and I am the only me). Our voices matter. Solidarity for recovering Good Girls!

To get a t-shirt like the one I’m wearing here, visit my CafePress store. And if you’d like to read Violet’s adventures on the wild side, order Going Native from Ellora’s Cave or your favorite book e-tailer.

You have permission to be awesome

This year, I worked a Halloween party where no one had ever had a Tarot experience (or at least none of the folks who sat down at my table). What happened seemed truly miraculous.

Morgan Greer Tarot ©U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Man with the mustache

First, there was the woman who wanted to know if her husband was hiding something from her. I threw some cards. One landed face down, with the Knight of Pentacles atop it. (I was using the Morgan Greer Tarot from U.S. Games Systems, Inc.) I knew the knight was her husband, and he was hiding the face-down card. My client exclaimed the card even looked like her husband.

Morgan Greer Tarot ©U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
The pot of gold

Then there was the man asking whether his sales lead-generation program would be successful within three months. I turned two cards and asked which one appealed to him. Without hesitation, he pounced on the 10 of Cups, also from the Morgan Greer Tarot. When we completed the reading, he pointed to that first card and explained how perfectly its artwork reflected his company’s name.

Literal translations like this are fun, but the true miracles were the shifts I saw in these people. How their Tarot experience encouraged them and validated them. How they straightened their spines, carrying their chests high.

Transformations before my very eyes

Another client arrived with a beer in either hand. I doubt he’d have sat at my table without a little buzz on. But he became more and more focused as we went through his cards. More clear-headed and thoughtful. He seemed positively inspired.

Were these clients truly looking for insight, or simply taking advantage of the night’s judgment-free atmosphere to sit for a reading as a lark? It doesn’t matter. Whatever brought them to me, I gave them my best and was awed to witness what they offered in return. I’m so grateful.

Shuck the rules and discover yourself

At Halloween, costumes give us permission to behave strangely. Like demanding candy. Or requesting a Tarot reading. The usual rules don’t apply. And when everything is just for fun, it’s amazing how easily we find our wings and fly.

Major Arcana. Major turning points

Strength card interpretations: Fortitude / Courage / Resourcefulness / Commitment / Self-confidence
“Think of important moments in your life. Choose a Tarot card to represent each experience.” This was the exercise offered by one of my Tarot mentors, Ferol Humphrey.

Three of us did as she suggested. We arranged our picks in chronological order and narrated our life’s highlights to one another.

Strength, 3 ways

All three of us included the Strength card. One, to represent her discovering a special affinity with animals in distress. Another, to represent her realization that one can choose not to fight without being weak.

For me, Strength represented my relationship with my skin. A decade ago, 40-year-old me faced yet another encore of disfiguring cystic acne. It proved a turning point in my life.

The battle I couldn’t win

Over the years, I’d tried any number of poisons to do away with this genetic condition. Nonstop antibiotics were the norm through my teen years, along with treatments involving sunlamps or dry ice, surgical lancing and occasional local steroid injections. Twice, I bombed my system with Accutane, once at age 21 and again at 30. (Sizable lawsuits have since forced the drug off the market.)

At age 40, the mirror once again reflected a familiar, hated landscape of redness, inflamed sores and distorted facial features. I could no longer kid myself there was any “conquering” cystic acne. I was going to have to befriend it.

So rather than seek a doctor crazy enough to prescribe a third round of Accutane or its equivalent, I sought a more holistic approach. With the help of a naturopath (who was also a skilled esthetician), I’ve come into a place of sustainable balance.

When Strength calls for surrender

Fighting against my condition kept me angry, resentful, fearful and occasionally mean. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror and I took it out on everyone, including me.

Strength meant having the courage to lay down arms and try to understand my body. Strength meant having the patience to let small changes show their effects over time. Strength meant taking responsibility for my body’s nourishment rather than ask a doctor to fix me.

Being ashamed of my skin diminished me. With Strength, I can appreciate that my skin will forever show me — and everyone I meet — when I’m out of balance.

What have you done with Strength?

Think of important moments in your life. Is there a Strength moment among them? What did it teach you? How did it change you?

At some point in our lives, we experience all 22 cards of Tarot’s Major Arcana — it’s why they’re Major. Turning points. Game changers. Some fill us with gratitude, others leave us with scars. And some, like my Strength experience, do both.


Would you like clarity or insight on something in your own life? I offer personal readings and would be glad to help.

Just won’t float

When I say I’m not the woman I was at 25, usually it’s because today’s 50-year old version of me feels freer, more confident and happier than I could imagine in my twenties. But recently, I freaked out in a spa’s floatation tank. It’s made me think about what personal growth really means.

Unsinkable in a mere foot of water

The spa promised an hour free of gravity’s shackles. I’d float like a cork in womb-like darkness in 300 gallons of water, saturated with more than a thousand pounds of Epsom salts, in a human-sized tank. The tank was soundproof and utterly dark. No distractions. Thanks to the body-temperature water, I’d soon lose track of where my skin ended and the water began.

Some might quail at the prospect, but I couldn’t wait. Back in the 80s, float tanks provided me a rare escape from my busy, busy brain.

When history fails to repeat

I had anticipated a spiritual experience, appropriate of the many ways I’ve evolved in the decades since my last float. Instead, I panicked before I’d even turned out the light.

Lying in the dark tank was out of the question, but I decided I’d use my hour in this warm, quiet place to enjoy some private meditation. Upright, I gained sufficient density to touch my bottom to the tank’s floor. I switched off the light, listened to my breath and released the need to wonder why 50-year-old me rejected something my nervous 25-year-old self had embraced so easily.

Sometimes it’s okay to be left in the dark

Why is a question I still haven’t answered. Perhaps it happened that way because I’m currently learning to recognize energetic boundaries, and so losing sense of my body would confuse me. Perhaps I was simply having a touchy day.

Perhaps why it happened that way matters less than that it did.

Turns out, growth isn’t linear

Fifty-year-old me went into the tank expecting to pick up where 25-year-old me left off. But if 25-year-old me had freaked in the tank, harsh self-criticism would have followed. Only with the perspective of age was I able to adapt to what was happening with presence and a new set of responses, rather than cling to my expectations and judge myself accordingly.

When I look at it that way, I reckon I had my spiritual experience after all.


Photo credit: From the official i-sopod website

Mirrors, mirrors. Aren’t we all?


People can be so annoying. Especially when they show me something about myself I don’t want to see.

It happened at a recent Meetup. One of my fellow students of Tarot read her cards with fluttering hands and plenty of mystical drama. Normally, I would chalk it up to personal style and perhaps find it amusing. This time, it irritated me.

Why? If I needed to justify my feeling, I’d point to the way she spouted prognostications as set-in-stone truths. This precludes free will and thus violates my code as a Tarot reader.

But that very afternoon, I’d rolled my eyes while telling a friend about a client’s infatuation with the mystical trappings commonly assigned to the intuitive and psychic sides of life.

What was my beef?

Time to look in the mirror

Truth is, I was once as infatuated as my client. And while I’ve not indulged in the kind of hand-fluttering as my fellow reader, I recognize it as a symptom of the same thing.

It seemed my irritation stemmed from being reminded of a version of myself I’ve left behind. But if I’d truly left it behind, I’d feel compassion rather than irritation.

My irritation carried the ugly whiff of judgment. And now that I’ve noticed it, other examples are popping up. They represent different areas of my past/beliefs/self-image. Facing these mirrors challenges me. It’s uncomfortable to admit to feeling judgmental, of myself and/or of others.

It helps to remind myself that I’ve grown–I’m experiencing these feelings from a perspective never before possible for me.

In other words, it’s okay to be where I am today. It’s merely my opportunity to embrace what I see in the mirror, and to appreciate the people who show it to me.

What are your mirrors showing lately? How do you handle it?


Photo credit (mirror): Elizabeth/Table4Five