The Wetfoot Blog

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Turning In: The Power of Self-Reflection and Silence

Dinner is over, camp is set, and the dishes are done. Only the fire and the enveloping silence—magnified by the crackling, setting in thickly—heavily compete for attention. The silence calls to mind all the noises and distractions that wait for the inevitable return from evenings around the fire. The weight in this situation hangs not on the silence, but on the questions unasked, waiting at the edge of the shadows, behind the proverbial window-eyes. Their presence is known, they have only to be beckoned forth.  Scatter the shadows, open the windows, let the wonder sweep in. 

Each day we collect and observe and make sense of the world around us. We slowly gather together our own library of experiences and lessons, and every once in a while, in a great feat of daring, we draw connections between those disparate experiences and we call it knowledge. Unfortunately though, far more often we look to teachers—in the classroom and out—to guide us to knowledge. Sometimes, though, we have only the silence to teach us. To teach us to be still, aware, and curious. To teach us to look within for a moment and grapple, or dance with those loose ends and catalogues of experiences. What is it about?

Most of the time we turn away from the silence that, in its patience, waits on; willing to invite us to see ourselves as creators of the very knowledge we are looking for from every external thing we can find. Perhaps we turn away hoping to be relieved of the burden of becoming autonomous, of becoming a person capable of creating knowledge. No longer abiding in the role of recipient.  

It is such a popular and pervasive belief, that we are meant to be taught by those who know. Of course this is a natural and healthy way to relate to each other, but here: a thought from the exceedingly timely Peter Block who wrote that “It is difficult to live another’s answer, regardless of the amount of goodwill with which it is offered.” And besides, the belief quite neglects the question of how we ought to relate to ourselves!
What happens when, in the presence of that silence, and with a proper amount of courage, we come to ourselves as the source of knowledge that will guide us towards a better question than “what is it about?” Rather, “what am I to contribute to it?”

I feel the calling to be as the silence, a steadfast and gentle reminder that knowledge resides within. And we must become accustomed to turning our minds inwards as often and with such daring as we turn our physical selves loose into the outward, the out-of-doors.  The silence invites us to be curious about all the languages and motions of our often spoken-over or ignored inner voice, that intrepid explorer crossing the terrain of the inner self, the ever unfolding and as yet uncharted wilderness. What a delight to be allowed to explore the vastness of the only unmapped territory left! And who can know what discoveries, what knowledge lies in wait, but that person courageous enough to turn in.

When, in the natural turn of seasons, we happen upon a new bit of knowledge, connecting innumerable experiences into a bit of fresh understanding about ourselves or our community, who will be gentle and bold enough to invite it into the world?

It seems that we tend to carry about as much knowledge as our narrative—which in this case means the story we tell ourselves about ourselves—allows us. It is so wonderful that we all have our own narrative, and that the natural way we gather and think together is in conversation, story-telling, and silence. How much we have to share with and receive from each other! So the fire crackles on, the conversations wane and wax, and we have the rest of our lives to get to know ourselves. Let the silence settle in and join the fellowship.
On a day like today, where do you turn to your crackling fire, your silence, and what will today’s silence teach you about navigating tomorrow? 

Justin VerMeer works for the National Youth Leadership Council and has led wilderness trips for Camp Manito-wish YMCA.

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