I just saw an off-Broadway play – Small Mouth Sounds – about six people at a silent retreat. The play really is mostly silent, meaning there’s very little talking, and even though I’ve never officially taken a strictly silent retreat myself (maybe I should), it felt familiar to me, between my time spent at Omega, taking meditation classes, other types of retreats, seminary classes, etc. As I watched the actors – who really are more like dancers – I realized a couple of times that I was watching them as if I was in the retreat, too.
I’m sitting in a darkened, quiet room, in a chair, flanked by two humans about whom I know nothing, aware of their breathing, aware of the way they hold their bodies, possibly even aware of their tentative energy, wondering what an off-Broadway show about meditation could possibly be, aware of my own body, antsy, frequently shifting the cross of my legs, taking off my shoes, leaning forward, head on hand, leaning back, trying to sit up straight with my shoulders back because I always forget, my shoulders that sag forward with the weight of my chest, the weight of my big, motherly boobs, aware of my steady stream of thoughts, so unceasing that I barely pay attention anymore, aware of the room, the rows of chairs, the lights hanging above, the row of screens within the wall across from me, showing a closeup of a tree branch, its twigs and leaves bouncing under the droplets of rain. I hear a recorded roar of thunder and a rush of rain, it’s getting louder and louder, the kind of loud that seems to simply suck away all other sound, mirroring the din in my head.
I’m simply watching, observing, witnessing goddammit, with a capital W, but who’s witnessing the Witness, huh??? Watching myself think, as if that’s possible, feeling all of these goddam feelings, watching their thoughts, feeling their feelings, too, while we’re at it. Thinking, feeling, sensing, breathing, just breathing.
Small mouth sounds.
There are worlds swirling around inside, so much to observe, process, so much to bear. How many worlds you think I got in there, huh? A hundred, a thousand, more? Multiply that by 200, the 200 people in this room with me, 200 bodies animated with life, ringing with laughter, inflating and deflating with each breath, bodies and bones and blood vessels, nipples and half-boners, farts, sighs, mmms, constipation, gurgly stomach noises, drunk bodies, sad bodies, soft bodies, hard bodies, softening hearts, hardening minds, mucous membranes and snot and tears and pus, birth control editing hormones, antacids settling stomachs, antidepressants numbing synapses, and hooked noses and arched eyebrows and coffee-with-milk skin and caramel skin and peachy, fuzzy skin, and hairy chins and lipstick and cologne and can you believe that 99.5% of my DNA matches up with his DNA matches up with her DNA and her DNA and everyone’s DNA, can you believe we’re practically clones of each other and we spend so much time caring about that point five percent? And, oh, so much going on inside of these brains and hearts, all the pain, the weight of grief, the lost husbands and lost jobs and sons and pets, regrets, joys, fear, questions, BIG FAT LIFE QUESTIONS, the kind you ask your guru because you’re too afraid, too stuck, too disbelieving to, I don’t know, hear that voice inside – I know there are a lot of voices, but if you could just sit still and listen for a second – that Voice of All Voices, the one that will, of course, tell you how to get that perfect job, the perfect man, house, next lay, whatever. That’s why we’re here, right? To listen, to breathe, to maybe get one little fucking clue about what this whole “being human” thing is.