One of the profound things a Maine winter can teach us is the power, the meaning, and the beauty of silence. Waking after a snowfall, I am stirred by a quietness in the light that seeks a way into my bedroom around the wooden slats of my window blinds. I vaguely hear the sounds of traffic, but they are dim, muted, far off, almost other-worldly. While I slept, the deep drifts ushered in a new world of peace, where all is hushed. Going to the window, I raise the blinds– at which Angelica leaps up on to her cat-castle to play with the pull-strings—and realize that the harbinger of this new hushed world is the river. The little Narramissic that runs past our doors has finally frozen. Just off the further shore, it is true, there is still a patch of ice-free water and there some ducks have gathered, swimming in circles, and some gulls watch them, seated on the ice. But the rest of the river is motionless, neither frothing down to meet the Penobscot Bay waters nor running (as it seems) backward with the tide towards the inland lake, but at a standstill, and quite silent.
In the years I have wintered here before, I never would have noticed this at the end of January. In other years the river froze over in December , or even before, often thick enough by now to resist cracking and melting even at the onset of a slight January thaw. But this year the changing climate tells us we can now expect much warmer winters. The “January thaw” was not only with us all month but in December, too. Only now, in the first days of February, are we being plunged finally into the deep freeze. So I notice the sudden change; I notice, and welcome, the silence.
Rumi, a Sufi mystic, says, “Silence is the language of God, all else is a poor translation.” I was reminded of this poet’s wisdom by a guest who on her Oranbega retreat wrote most of a whole book about how humans use and misuse words. She is herself a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and her book is full of extraordinary wisdom, the fruit of much meditation. I am so moved that she was able to write it here. Meditation, she reminds us in it, is a walk into the deep silence of Ultimate Consciousness– what some of us call God–a way of re-tooling the mind so that instead of hurrying off on the tasks it continually sets itself, like a river rushing to the ocean, it stops, gets quiet, and discovers a new way of knowing, a new way of being.
Today is a good day for meditation. I am glad the guys with the snow plow have not come. I’m glad I can’t go into town. Who doesn’t love a snow day? A day to break the routine. A day for silence. Oranbega, the name that means “the quiet place between the rapids” comes into its own today.
My abiding hope is that those who come to Oranbega in the Spring, the Summer, or the Fall will also know this quiet, and be inspired by it to create new things and to see things in a new way, to hear new things, to create new things of beauty. But I see today that the root of the grace that is in this place abides in the deep hush of winter that holds us firmly now in the grasp of ice and snow. The ice is fierce and sharp, but under the snow the contours of the land are blurred and gentled. In the silence I hold thoughts of our broken, violent world, thoughts of loss and of longing, and feel the healing begin as if under a deeply nurturing blanket of compassion. A deeply nurturing silence. Come, share it.