At the SILENT retreat/nunnery that I just went to this past weekend, I was honestly expecting to have a complete mental breakdown. I packed loads of salty snacks, chocolate and a stress ball fully anticipating that when I got there, I would fall to my knees (hoping it was carpeted) and end up eating my way into a state of numbness.
It was quite the contrary.
I drove down to the retreat listening to Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” and singing at the top of my lungs while making my car gyrate all over the highway. I figured this would do two things: 1) exhaust my voice since I wasn’t going to be using it anyway, and 2) expel any extraneous sexual energy I might be carrying around with me so as not to repel or disgust the nuns.
Hey, it was just a theory…
I stopped the car in a panic at the crest of a hill because I was sure I had passed the nunnery and used my cell phone as a phone (imagine!) to call them. Sister Pat assured me I was not more than a few minutes away. As it turned out, I was less than twenty seconds away.
I met Sister Pat whom I wanted to hug instantly. She is a grey-haired non-habit-wearing nun that walks with a slight wobble. She led me through the house and whispered instructions on where to find things, how to eat in silence and about the house rules in general.
The place itself is a restored log cabin that creaks and whines with every step you take. These sounds are magnified when there is no other sound in the house at all. I found myself tip-toeing all weekend like a lover sneaking around the house trying to surprise their partner with notes tucked into things while the other is sleeping (why go with the ol’ “creeping like a burglar” metaphor when this is so much more romantic?)
Both Sister Pat and Sister Betty knew that I was there to write. They just didn’t know what I was there to write.
On the second day I saw Sister Betty in the kitchen and she asked me how the writing was going.
Me: I’m so excited! I think I’m actually going to finish it here!
Sister Betty: Good for you dear!
Me: Sister Betty, I have to tell you I feel a bit weird though. I’m not embarrassed or anything, but it just feels a bit odd to say that I’m upstairs writing about sex.
Sister Betty: We all have something we must do. The rest is up to God.
Me: Thank you! I agree.
Sister Betty: I’m sure what you are doing is very important.
Me: Words are flowing out of me like a tap that’s been turned on full blast.
Sister Betty: I understand. When you don’t let go of these thoughts and write them down, your brain becomes inundated with an abundance of words and your mind gets clogged up. You have to pour them out or they can overtake you.
And just like that, I recognized a kindred spirit and fellow writer in Sister Betty.
I also met someone in the house who whispered to me, “I’m reading 50 Shades of Grey” (there was some context to this) to which I responded, “I have a much better book in the trunk of my car. Hold please while I go get it.”
This to me, seemed to underscore that it doesn’t matter where I go, the topic of sex finds me and it offers me a chance to connect with others.
So instead of having a complete meltdown, (I have had one of those which I shall document in said second book but you’ll have to wait for it to come out), I was focused and driven by that delicious juice that writers or any other creative soul will understand.
I simply had to write.
And write I did. Just under 50,000 words in less than three days.
In fact, the entire first draft of “Bring Your Own Batteries” was completed up in that creatively energizing environment. The only thing I had trouble with, the entire time I was there, was eating in silence.
On the first day I realized that when I like something that I am eating (yes, sorry to be crass, but that applies to non-food type things as well), I am a VERY vocal person.
I moan a lot.
I also cuss a lot.
Like: “Motherfucker, this salad is fucking amazing, fuck!”
I often don’t eat out with people that don’t really know me all that well so this isn’t an issue.
In a nunnery it is.
Therefore, on day one I realized I had to squash my desire to tap the person next to me on the shoulder and disrupt their contemplative, quiet time with, “Have you had the fucking salad? It’s off the motherfucking charts! I want to make love to that entire bowl!”
On day two I started to become resentful of the other guests when they wouldn’t talk to me about the food or what they were doing in the house of prayer.
I realize this makes NO sense.
We are supposed to be silent so it’s not like their quietness was a personal affront to me and yet I felt slighted that no one seemed to be rejoicing in the yummy eats the way I was.
It stirred up too many memories of eating lunches alone in university where I felt completely isolated and alienated from everyone else. Good thing I was working on my memoirs, eh?
On day three I spent my time focusing on every flavour and truly tasting every bite to distract myself from the lack of talking but this only caused me to moan more and throw my head back a few times. I blame it on the lime mousse.
Being silent for three days and only hearing the click of my keyboard or the tap of the rain against the windows brought me to a place of serenity that was beyond any measure of bliss I have known in a long time. I was able to feel every experience more deeply. Not just the glorious fullness a writer feels when a story is aching to come out of you, but also every possible emotion connected to each word you throw down in your draft.
I laughed out loud as I wrote.
I cried as well.
In fact, I was crying so hard I thought my blubbering could be heard throughout the house.
And I got so aroused at one point that I had to step away from the keyboard and take a cold shower in order to get back to work.
In fact on the last day as I was leaving, first draft completed, feeling more in tune with myself than I have in a very long time, I ran back into the house to hug Sister Betty and said, “Sister Betty I love you!”
She replied, “I love you too, Jasmine! Keep up the good work that you are doing. And God bless you.”
On the drive back to Ottawa listening to Toni Braxton just didn’t seem appropriate. I drove in silence for a distance listening to the road, my breath and the chirp of birds in the distance. Half an hour later I popped in my favourite song of all all time in the CD drive- Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”- and listened to it on repeat the entire rest of the drive home.
To Sister Betty, Sister Pat and Wendy (their magnificently gifted and loving chef), I dedicate the words of Gabriel’s tune (replacing “eyes” with “house”) and thank you from the bottom of my literary soul for your generosity of spirit, your warmth and the abundance of love you showed me.”
In your house, the light the heat
In your house, I am complete
In your house, I see the doorway
Of a thousand churches
Your house, the resolution
Of all the fruitless searches.
Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light, the heat, I see in your house.”
I guess I’ll save my mental breakdown for a later date. For now the heavy clacking of my keyboard which, for the last three years has been silent, is truly music to my ears.