The search for silence

Sara Maitland, meet Dorothy Gale, who said at the end: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”

Today I read a review of a book by Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence, in which the reviewer writes: “After a noisy upbringing as one of six children, and adulthood as a vocal feminist and mother, Sara Maitland began to crave silence. Over the past five years, she has spent periods of silence in the Sinai desert, the Australian bush, and a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye. Her memoir of these experiences is interwoven with the history of silence through fairy-tale and myth, Western and Eastern religious traditions, the Enlightenment and psychoanalysis, up to the ambivalence towards silence in contemporary society. Maitland has built a hermitage on an isolated moor in Galloway, and the book culminates powerfully with her experiences of silence in this new home.”

Seems like an interesting book, one I’m likely to read and appreciate. I wonder, however, if Maitland had to journey so far (the Sinai desert, the Australian bush, a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye) to find the silence she sought or that was seeking her. The most daunting pilgrimage I can make, and the one I’m most likely to avoid by using whatever distraction I can, including the distraction of seeking my treasure elsewhere,  is the pilgrimage inward.

On the other hand, I may remain blind to the treasure within until I’ve searched for it on far shores. As R. K. Meiners wrote in his poem “Journeying Back to the World”:

. . . transformation is never that easy.

It is only the fabulous voyager

who has travelled west with the light,

or the recluse possessed by the dream

and compelled by the weight of his story,

bearing his fate like a new name,

who returns with news for the earth,

hoping that someone will listen.

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