I’ll freely admit it: I was that weird kid in grade school.
I was the quintessential introverted girl who spent lunches alone under a tree.
I sketched in my notebook instead of socializing. I preferred singing to myself rather than making small talk in the hallways. I wrote poetry and short stories about the things I observed about other people—the absurdities of friendship politics and mindless interactions.
I was already cynical of the kind of extroversion that BKS Iyengar describes as being “acquisitive, as if life were a non-stop shopping spree”—always rising up to greet things with a defined ego, naming things, gaining things…instead of being receptive and enjoying how the world washes over the senses.
All of this would have been fine if not for the negative stigma associated with quietness in our culture, including where I live (the Northeastern United States). Rather than cultivate my introverted creativity, I came to believe that it had little value.
I became awkwardly quiet instead of finding grace in the silent moments.
I have since come to rediscover yoga, dance, art, and writing as forms of expression that I appreciate, and have slowly become more comfortable in my own skin. I recently completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. I lived in a dorm with the other students in the program, which fostered community and made the education an immersive experience (we simmered in yoga 24 hours a day!).
But this new, college-like environment brought up old anxieties about who I have been in the past: timid and afraid to express myself, small, someone whose creative buzz was continually hampered by society’s attitudes toward thinking outside of the box.
Now I was among these new people. Now I had a second chance. I was desperate to make myself seen and heard. My socializing took on a rampant, fanatical quality. When my energy was drained and I knew it wouldn’t serve me to insert myself into a social situation, I did it anyway. I became the girl going on a sensory shopping spree. I was afraid of slipping behind the smokescreen of mere observation.
Then, in the third week of training, we were asked to participate in a silent retreat, where we were silent through the night until lunchtime the next day. This was not a completely foreign concept to us, since breakfasts at Kripalu were silent and we were well-versed at not talking while we enjoyed our steel-cut oatmeal and scrambled tofu. But while some people found it refreshing and energizing to not socialize for an entire half day, it was clear that some were anxious to sit silently with themselves and not rely on others to distract them.
I was in what I perceived to be a unique situation: I was about to get back in touch with what was natural for me, but I had boundless fear of doing so.
I recalled the times when I had slipped so far into my own head, sealing myself into this “introvert” identity. By the time I felt ready to engage in the world again, I would stop myself because I had convinced myself that I did not really exist; I was only meant to watch what happened around me.
In the silence, and without other people to save me from myself, I thought this would happen again.
But I had nothing to be afraid of. Because of the way we had been practicing presence and connection, I was able to keep “one eye turned inward and one eye turned outward,” as we were continually instructed to do during our yoga practice.
To be able to do this meant to have a healthy connection and engagement with the environment, but also to keep a gauge on our feelings and internal dialogue—and to not relinquish awareness of one for the sake of obsession with another.
And because of the foundation we had already built as a community of mindful yogis, I was able to acknowledge my love for those around me without feeling the need to jump down their throats to prove it.
For me, the definition of silence changed. It no longer meant awkwardness or avoidance. Now it is simply a strategy I use in order to balance my love.
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Apprentice Editor: Edith Lazenby/Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: elephant archives