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Metta’s Silent Treatment

Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.

Last month found me slowly waking up after a month of personal hibernation in Metta’s Rewilding, only to surprise myself by needing yet more silence.

Past articles have explored how metta meditation practice has helped me face liminality of all sorts: mean times in Metta in the Kindtime, sliding doors in Metta’s Sliding Doors, delays in Metta’s Long Corridor, and even my own and others’ disappearances in Metta’s Disappearing Act and Vanishing Metta

The Dharma is nothing if not thorough, and it used January to reveal yet another liminal nuance: using my presence to highlight my absence.

Back in November, I drew a line in the soil for both my latest farm team and volunteering on organic farms altogether to withdraw from game after game that I never signed up for, and for rest and regenerate in the volunteers’ static caravan.

A gardening leave of sorts.

While I wanted out, I also wanted to protect the team from further fallout. And so, while I would never deliberately give a person the silent treatment, I felt that it was necessary to maintain a makeshift version of noble silence to prevent yet more game playing and gossip.

This is not an easy tightrope to walk when you genuinely care about the people affected but also aren’t in a position to call out the poor behavior publicly. It was my hope that that my continued presence would reassure those who still needed support—including the land itself—and that my continued absence would disconcert those who were still playing games.

While I was resting, one of my oldest friends unexpectedly confided that he was seriously considering asking his wife of 10 years for a divorce. My heart broke a little as he broke his silence, not so much for his decision, which I supported, but for all the ways he’d felt invisible during his marriage. A few days after our heart-to-heart, he updated me that a cousin had wisely mediated a one-month cooling down period of no contact before discussing next steps.

It gladdened my heart to notice the tone of his texts and his voice lighten almost instantly as he had a chance to listen to himself for what was truly best for him in the months ahead. Interestingly, he never felt tempted to break the month’s silent treatment but his wife often tried.

Something similar happened with one of my newest friends, who sadly experienced entering her crone-hood as becoming invisible to society. When I shared last month’s article inspired by her, she thanked me for helping her see herself in a new light and make some decisions about what new roles she wanted to play moving forward rather than the roles society was offering.

When I bumped into my former coworkers out and about, we were genuinely happy to see each other again. Some offered support if I needed it, while others subtly fished for gossip. One very sweetly texted me that it wasn’t the same farm without me, and another left me a surprise care package in the firewood shed. Interestingly, the only one to test my new line in the soil was the game-player.

I continued to maintain noble silence to prevent further fallout and game after game that the team hadn’t signed up for either, and made peace with my decision to walk away when and how I did.

My daily sits, however, were some of the most grueling of my life as every silent grief within me found its voice. Day after day, I generated metta for every part of me that had ever been silenced and—even harder to face—all the times I had silenced myself. Whenever I felt I’d reached rock bottom for pain, that bottom would fall out like a trapdoor to reveal yet another layer, not unlike an M. C. Escher painting!

M. C. Escher’s Relativity. From wikipedia.org

My proactive adult self was champing at the bit to find a way to move on as soon as yesterday, while my younger selves were throwing themselves onto the proverbial floor to release pent-up tantrums and finally have their say. I was honestly half tempted to ask my divorcing friend if he might lend me his wise cousin to mediate.

While I wouldn’t recommend this type of sit-in in a truly dangerous situation, the Dharma cornering me into being absent yet present somewhere I no longer wanted to be and no longer felt welcome was quite the inner tightrope to walk, feeling too tired to stay and too tired to go. 

No matter how long I sat and listened and soothed and generated metta for those younger selves finally finding their voice, back in the present none of my old ways of receiving guidance and navigating next steps seemed to be working. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when even the small compass on my keyring snapped off one morning locking the static caravan door.

Was the Dharma itself now giving me the silent treatment?

In desperation, I reached out to the Vipassana meditation center I had sat in and served at for many years, hoping that they might need help in the kitchen for a few weeks, in case I could get clearer guidance there.

Rather poetically, I was both accepted and declined in contradictory emails within minutes of each other. As I hadn’t been back in the last two years, I would be required to first sit a 10-day course before serving again. While discovering that unexpected closed door in the moment really hurt, the explanation made me laugh given the nearly two-month adhitthana I was currently sitting solo!

Even more cosmic poetry followed when my email provider was bought out and my inbox of 15 years was closed with next to no notice. Salvaging and transferring what archived messages and data I still could, the decluttering and defragging metta-phor wasn’t lost on me.

From pintrest.com

Rereading fragments of old realities and discovering written proof that I had not imagined the current game-playing—I’ll admit that it was easy to doubt myself on that score as I’m still probably the only one yet to see it—brought to the surface yet more old grief and fresh respect for how I had handled previous impossible situations.

When I bumped into a storyteller acquaintance out walking her baby girl along the local canal, she announced that her husband was starting a new job across the country next month. A wonderful opportunity for him, but a wrench for her to leave behind her new-parent network. I shared how beyond ready I was feeling to move on, and we both laughed if only we could swap realities as easily as library books.

She invited me to a weekly community café morning she was leading the singing for until their move, and it turned out to be delightful. Particularly poignant was a song about walking home, it not being a place but a feeling and just being here.

Parts of me could sit peacefully with the feeling of universal abandonment, while others felt devastated and ready to give up. On the darkest of those days—a full moon, coincidentally—I visited the local goddess temple to place spring daffodils upon the altar and check in on my crone friend. When she innocently asked me how I was, I started howling.

Tears, tears, and more tears flowed as I tried to find the words. I had innocently thought that I was taking time out before taking new flight, and somehow ended up having every last piece of baggage X-rayed and myself painstakingly strip-searched instead.

Bless her, the temple mother coaxed me to her flat and let me sob and find the words for hours until it felt like I had been well and truly wrung out. And then life carried on: we quietly shared breakfast-for-dinner on lap trays on the sofa with her pet chihuahua and watched a TV program on pottery in which contestants threw pots blindfolded.

Dear readers, I wish for all our sakes that I could tie this month’s article up with some amazing epiphany or words of wisdom after a couple of months of metta’s silent treatment. At this stage of the treatment, however, I’m still feeling like a damp lump of clay thrown onto the Dharma’s pottery wheel waiting for it to decide what it will make of me next.

Or, to metta-morphose the lyrics to “Unchained Melody” playing in the background of the iconic pottery scene from the film Ghost:

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
Metta will bring me home, wait for me

Related features from BDG

Safe, Satisfied, and Loved: Coming Home to Our True Selves
Having a Voice During Silence on Retreat
The Sweet Sound of Silence
Harmonic Presence: Qualities of Silence, Listening, and Sound with David Hykes
Expressions between Dogma and Silence: A Japanese Take on the Two Truths
The Sound of Silence

More from Living Metta by Mettamorphsis

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