I find silence to be restorative in a way that nothing else matches. Actual physical silence, somewhere where no traffic sounds penetrate, no sound of machinery, no whizzing of the washing machine on spin cycle, no subtle hum of central heating or the computer. Silence from man and man-made things. I seem to need a dose of such silence from time to time, to restore me to myself.
On Wednesday Rev. Mugo and I joined Adrienne for a few hours on her merit walk around the Pembrokeshire coast. It was a glorious day, sun glinting off the sea, the kind of day where you think: why would I want to be doing anything other than this, putting one foot in front of another, looking towards the next headland or bay, feeling the sun and breeze on my skin, being aware of my body moving and breathing.
I was reminded of the time I walked 400 miles of the South West Coastal Path (my knees gave up before I could finish the remaining 160 or so miles). It was about a year after I had started practicing Buddhism and I wanted time away from my career and my family and friends and all other influences on me so that I could find out what I really felt I wanted to do at that point in my life. Week after week I walked. After a while I realised I wasn’t thinking about my future at all, which is what I thought I had come to do. But slowly things were dropping away and I just walked. And by the end of my walk a decision had made itself.
I don’t think we can ever get completely free of all influences, all conditioning – at least not in this physical existence. But it sure does help sometimes when we can reduce it significantly. A long walk is a form of retreat – I’m sure Adrienne would agree. Sometimes it is called a pilgrimage, or indeed a merit walk.