My traveling partner in Nepal was one of my very best friends, Jody. She and I have known each other for over 30 years--and she still likes me! We have travelled extensively together, so along with stretches of silliness and uncontrollable laughter, we’ll sometimes sit reading for hours without speaking, and can easily slip into comfortable silence. I tend to be the first one to slip out of these silences.
Jody and I hadn’t been in the gates of Kopan Monastery for five minutes before we met a fellow Canadian. We were checking in when a gal sitting at the other end of the desk smiled at us and said, “Hey!”, waving her passport in greeting. For the remainder of the three days we would pass in and out of each other’s orbits sharing an occasional meal, some meditation or conversation. A bystander would have certainly assumed that the three of us had known each other longer than just a couple of days.
It’s one of the things I Iove most about traveling—meeting people. I enjoyed asking a lovely yogi we met about her life in Iceland, I’m always interested in hearing what people from other countries think of Canadians, and the journalist in me loves hearing other people’s stories and experiences.
I walk around saying hello, good morning, smiling at people. If you’ve ever met my father, you understand that it’s in my DNA. My Dad was a guy who, one day, was driving through rural Indiana and didn’t recognize the crop being harvested in the fields he was passing. Most people would just keep driving. Not Ray. He pulled over, waited for the tractor coming up the row, and struck up a conversation with the Amish farmer at the wheel. The crop was spearmint that would be sold to Trident, and my Dad came home with two bottles of spearmint oil and a new friend.
And so last month Ray’s daughter went to a Buddhist monastery brimming with questions and enthusiastic to learn. One of my first lessons was that Buddhists value silence. Many people come to a Buddhist monastery for silent meditation retreats. And did you know that Buddhist monks often prefer to eat their meals in silence appreciating not just the food they are eating, but also those who made the meal and the earth and sunshine that grew the food? If you are nodding your head yes, enjoy your next silent retreat!
Jody was way more clued in to the whole silence thing, and resisted the urge to kick me under the table when we took a meal with one of the four nuns who living at Kopan. People did speak at the monastery, we saw monks talking and laughing and touring visitors around, and groups of visitors taking around picnic tables at mealtimes, it just took me a little while to become acclimated to the quiet. And I began to like it very much.
I am writing this post in a crowded coffee shop amid the rise and fall of dozens of voices. Snippets of conversation about choosing art for a new home, military chaplains discussing plans for an upcoming trip to California, and high schoolers complaining about teachers. The din is overwhelming and while I appreciate the human company, I realize I need quiet. Ear buds in, I’m able to continue writing hearing only the steady fall of raindrops.