Paris in spring time: I have just had the experience. Long walks along the Seine. Tours of the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Rodin Museum, Versailles. Strolls along Champs-Élysées (with red wine drinking pit-stops along the way). The verging-on-claustrophobic winding stairs to panoramic views from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica dome. The town square of Place du Tertre filled with artists in mid-brush stroke. Intricate stained glass, towering arches and statues of Notre-Dame, St. Sulpice and cathedral after cathedral. The 720 stairs plus elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Exploring the winding, narrow streets teeming with cafes and jaw-dropping architecture. Sipping wine in outdoor cafes, people watching, imaging how Parisians live. The almost-quiet beauty of Luxembourg Gardens.
And that was when it hit me: almost-quiet. As historically beautiful as Paris was, quiet it was not. A massive bustling city with jammed sidewalks, scooters and cars streaming by and café tables squeezed together so tightly that your elbows almost touched the person next to you.
In the magical city of Paris, I found myself becoming antsy. The more “off” I felt, the more I silently berated myself for being in this less-than-joyful mindset:“You’re in Paris…you should be thrilled…how ungrateful of you”. It took reading an email from a friend for it to finally click: I was DOING not BEING. In all the busyness and loudness, I had lost myself. I had shut off and become a doer — do this, do that, see this, see that — and lost the ability to just be. In the loudness, I lost my own quiet.
During this time of disconnect, my inbox was filling with emails from friends reflecting on the one-year anniversary of our Ashram experience. As I was reading them in an outdoor café jammed with people, it dawned on me: at the Ashram we connected in deep, reflective quiet. It made me stop and wonder: where has the quiet gone?
In all this doing, doing doing, have we become so disconnected from that deep place within ourselves that we do not even want to go there anymore: we prefer to be distracted? How do we find our own quiet when the world is conspiring against us in its loudness and constant stimuli?
I tried to find the quiet in Notre-Dame Cathedral. After walking one morning, I found myself sitting on a park bench facing the Seine. I remembered all the signs within the cathedral asking for SILENCE and thought, “Maybe it will feel different this time.” I went in with a different attitude. Same large crowds filled the Cathedral. Very few could remain silent, not even for the short time they were there. Voices multiplied and echoed. I walked in silence, focusing on the beauty all around me. I found a pew, sat and tried to quiet my mind and block out the sounds to see if I could connect to myself, to my soul, in this historically spiritual place. Sadly, I could not.
On my way back to the hotel, I walked through Luxembourg Gardens again. It was overcast and cold, so the crowds had thinned. In a corner under some trees, I felt the quiet and finally started to connect to myself.
My ability to hold on to this quiet was tested in Paris. I lost it. I learned a bit more about what trips me up. I recognized – in retrospect – the loud warning bells that were going off trying to tell me that I had disconnected from myself. Will I learn to hear them sooner?
In this world of doing, doing, doing, it is easy to be superficially present. In the wise words of my friend, I want to BE not DO. It is about being fully present, connected on that deep level where body, mind and soul live as one – with my soul/spirit/inner self in the driver’s seat.
I have known this place. It knows me. This is where I want to live from.
“If you can’t get quiet enough to hear yourself, your life is too loud.” — Terri Guillemets
“We need silence to be able to touch souls.” — Mother Teresa
“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.” — Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
“True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” — William Penn
“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” — Mahatma Gandhi
“You can hear the footsteps of God when silence reigns in the mind.” — Sri Sathya Sai Baba
“Not merely an absence of noise, Real Silence begins when a reasonable being withdraws from the noise in order to find peace and order in his inner sanctuary.” — Peter Minard
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” — Baba Ram Das
Have you found the quiet within you?