Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Neap of the Year

Notice how her lips are not moving. 

It's 40 degrees this morning in Big Sur as the sun rises over the ridgetop.  I wear thick cotton stockings under my sweat pants, a cashmere sweater over my thermal shirt, muck-lucks and fingerless gloves. I drink hot water with lemon to warm my insides, which has the added benefit of cleansing my liver from all the holiday cheer. My neighbor, who helped me restore the internet this week (after his horse wandered through the garden and snapped the cable) said, it's the "neap" of the year, approaching the shortest day, the lowest tide of the year.

Extra moisturizer helps offset the effect of the wood-burning stoves. The cats sleep close at night, staying warm. Storm clouds tinted pink on the horizon at dawn take the shapes of centaurs, angels and temples out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. Filling the house with firewood is an ongoing project, and we hike, rake leaves or dance to keep from freezing. 

This is the time of the year which lends itself to the contemplation which comes at the end of a cycle -- when projects draw to a close, lifestyles slow down, dreams fade into the background. We focus on stillness, and birthing what comes next. One thinks of a long winter's nap filled with visions of the year to come. 

So, with Nyepi, the Balinese New Year nationwide day of silence in mind, I decided on an experiment one Sunday  this past month. We live surrounded by words. We steep ourselves in our stories, constantly told and re-told to ourselves and others. Yet we cultivate the art of conversation less than we did before Facebook updates, emails and text messages. These new methods make earlier ways of communicating seem quaint. Why call someone to chat when you can let the world know your status with just a few keystrokes?

Awash in all this communication, our souls are caught in a maze of stimulation and we forget that silence is the starting point for reverence and true understanding. In the words of the Prophet Mohammed, "The first stage of worship is silence." And while reaching out to others for guidance is key, it is as much our vulnerability and willingness to listen that comforts and heals. 

I decided to spend a day in silence.

Abandoning all the gadgets (phone, laptop, ipod) in order to  listen and observe my thoughts. Remembering Blaise Pascal's famous quote, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

Just before dawn, I began my day by wrapping myself in a blanket beside the fire, becoming absorbed in watching a flickering candle flame. The cold weather somehow helps the process of turning inward.  After a few hours of reading and puttering about the house (and making notes of conversations I needed to have very, very soon) one word escapes my lips as I look the white orchid beside the window, "Pretty," I said. 

Later that afternoon, after not answering phone calls (which was hard but kind of a relief, too) or checking emails (OK, I peeked at Facebook), I took a solitary hike, ending up at Partington Cove, where I watched the waves. Surprise, surprise, there's a huge amount of noise in my head, much of it repetitive. Damming the outward flow of talk, I watch the debris of my thoughts, memories and emotions rise to the surface. 

Some treasures float upward, and a few monsters, too. A wedding cake emerges beside a broken teapot. A gem-studded veil swirls around a Christmas tree. Baby goats bleat and scamper over hay bales. A coyote strolls past the bedroom door in the early morning fog.  The wind blows and all is still again, the water smooth.

During this low ebb of the year, when the seas of our souls become a little more tranquil, it's possible to observe the currents that flow like themes through our lives. We can begin to identify the crashing waves from the quiet pools, and perhaps choose more freely how we navigate the tides.
Photos by Linda Sonrisa