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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 3

"Circle of Silence"

written by

Glynis Scrivens

I really didn’t think this through. Just followed my gut instinct.


What do you do when your two best friends move somewhere else? Sure, we’ve been phoning and emailing and texting. And we often Skype on the weekends. But there’s a big hole in my life. An empty seat beside me on the train to work. No one to talk me into going to the gym on Thursday evenings. No one to take to the end of season sales.


So what did I do? Don’t laugh.


Here I am, sitting in a quiet circle in the old stone chapel. When I say quiet, I mean silent. We’re here to meditate. Yes, somehow I came to the conclusion that sitting in an upright position with ten other people would help fill the yawning hole in my social life. 

Perhaps I’m beyond redemption because it’s beginning to work. I’m actually getting to know them.


You’d be surprised how much you can learn about someone just by sitting together with your eyes closed for twenty minutes.


Take Bill. He’s one of those people you never really notice. He always looks slightly crushed by life. Maybe it’s the small scar on his cheek that gives that impression? Or maybe the vulnerability he can’t conceal in his eyes?


When we were sitting down just now, he spoke to me for the first time in six weeks. “I love coming here,” he said. “I always feel safe.”


His words keep echoing in my head. I can’t help wondering where he doesn’t feel safe. And why. And I always wonder why he’s forever tired. Has there been a meditation session yet that hasn’t been accompanied by his gentle snoring? When I open my eyes afterwards, there he’ll be, slumped forward. Sometimes even the gong hasn’t woken him. That’s the job of whoever is sitting next to him.


Diane is another. Someone I could’ve seen every day and never paid any attention to. When you first see her, she seems a mousy kind of woman. Her hair is straight and limp, and she’s always wearing track pants. She looks like somebody’s sweet old-fashioned grandmother. And maybe she is. But that’s only a fraction of the truth. Tonight I noticed her strength. The way her eyes flashed. Saw the real woman and realized my initial response had been very superficial.


The vicar is another surprise. A bit younger than me. That first night when I came to join the group, I found her overwhelming. Her voice strong and assured, reading the closing prayer in a deliberate way. Not how I’d have read it, I suppose. She didn’t use intonation or pauses, just ploughed on. Now? She stayed behind last week to help me find a suitable meditation app for my phone so I can time my sessions at home. She happened to mention her children. No wonder she can’t stay after our sessions. My picture of her is more complete. And again, I’d misjudged her. 


Now when I see her, it’s her strength of purpose and her kindness that I notice.


I wonder what she sees when she looks at me?


The young Danish man is still a mystery. He wears a pale grey tracksuit whatever the weather. Maybe something will happen one evening that shows him in a different light? I’m beginning to learn that people are much more than they seem. 


Guilt fills me. Follow the breath, I remind myself. I’m meant to be focusing on my in-breath and my out-breath, using the mantra.


In, out. In, out.


A siren outside breaks my limited concentration. I have to drag myself back to the present moment. To my breathing.


In, out. In, out.


And that’s when I remember with a pang that I’ve forgotten to light a candle. In our midst there’s a ceramic bowl filled halfway with sand. On the shelf underneath is a basket of votive candles. Usually there’ll be about eight candles alight while we meditate. And I always check them when the gong sounds and we open our eyes again. They burn at different speeds. Some will have collapsed altogether into a puddle of wax. Others will still be casting light. Maybe there’s a draught in the chapel?


At my first meditation session I lit a candle for my two friends who’d moved north. I was following suit as most of the others were lighting one and placing it in the sand. Now I light a candle for someone I’ve lost and have learned the simple comfort that can bring. 

Even the candles are placed in a circle, just like us. I wonder if that’s intentional, or if it’s just because it’s a circular bowl? If it was a square container, would we still automatically place them in a circle? It’s tempting to find out. 


I reckon the young Danish man would rearrange the candles if they weren’t a perfect circle. Or a perfect square. I noticed tonight that he got up and moved one to make it align with the others. It made me wonder if he has some condition he hopes to help with meditation.


Something in our lives has brought each one of us here. And something in the vicar’s life has caused her to create this space and time, and to share it with anyone else who needs it.


The gong sounds. Once, twice, a third time. Echoing through the stone building. Echoing through our hearts as we open our eyes. I gently nudge Bill, who is sitting beside me. I don’t say, “Wake up.” Just nudge him a second time, trying not to startle him. Remembering his need to feel safe.


Someone talks about their “monkey mind”. How they kept getting sidetracked. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not just me having trouble.


Doing nothing. Is there anything harder to do?

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