an oasis of silence

We need to recover an oasis of silence within the rhyme and reason of our active life, for it is in the silence that we meet the face of God. ~ Max Picard

It is still dark as I type these words. The sliding doors of the guest room at my parents’ house in Florida are open to warm night air, the rolling sounds of distant traffic, the first low laments of mourning doves. For the last week my mom and I have been alone here together. Our plan when we arrived was to spend these precious days taking walks, reading our books (I ambitiously mailed myself a whole box from home), exercising, making healthful meals and enjoying each other’s company.

We’ve done some of that. But in all honesty, we’ve been distracted from our modest intentions. The drama playing out in Washington has overshadowed too many waking hours. Instead of immersing myself in the novels on the bedside table, I succumb to the pull of three or four different newspapers and magazines on line.

In years past, my mom and I would spread craft supplies out on the table and create home-made cards and tiny hand-sewn books with leather covers. This year, we’ve been sharing articles and posts from our Facebook and Twitter news feeds. And watching Colbert and Saturday Night Live clips. And making phone calls to senators and representatives. And signing petitions. And donating money. (And, as I mentioned here last week, not sleeping all that well.)

A few minutes ago, when I switched on the bedroom light and reached for my laptop, this quote about silence was the first thing I saw.   It arrived at the top of an invitation to a contemplative retreat. The words leapt out — an oasis of silence. I wanted to sign up immediately.


the shape of a year
and a book to win

booksIt’s snowing again, for the third time in a week. In New England, and certainly here in our part of New Hampshire, it’s a season of enforced respite from the comings and goings of our busy everyday lives. We can fight the weather (not much of a contest there!), or we can embrace the challenge of an uncompromising northern winter, layering on fleeces and wool socks, planning ahead, slowing down. I choose to acquiesce to this season of storms, keeping more food in the refrigerator, making pots of soup and chili that last for days, shopping less, driving less, snowshoeing more, writing more, reading more, gazing out the window more.

IMG_2045This morning, it’s pretty wild outside — a bitter, relentless wind drives vast, swirling curtains of powder across the meadow and sends silent clumps of snow crashing from tree limbs. With the temperature dropping steadily and the snow already hip deep, it would be easy to view yet another four or six or sixteen inches of snow as an annoying inconvenience. But I’m seeing this latest storm as a muffled blessing, an invitation to stay put today—no place to go and nothing to do, at least until the roads are cleared.

Looking up from my stool in the kitchen, I spot the empty bird feeder swinging in the wind and a sturdy cardinal, all puffed up and hunkered down in a nearby snowdrift, bright as a jewel against the blanket of white, patiently waiting for his breakfast. We all need to eat.

cardinalI slip on Steve’s tall black boots to trudge out and fill the birdfeeder, scattering some extra nibbles along the top of the snow-covered stonewall — a sunflower seed buffet for the squirrels and the jays. A pair of chickadees arrives before I’m even back to the door, the two of them too hungry to be shy. I stand there quietly for a moment, close as I dare, to watch them take turns plucking seeds from between the wires. But my fingers are already numb with cold. I’ll skip the long walk today.

IMG_2034Back inside my cozy kitchen, second cup of coffee in hand, I pick up my book.

More and more these days, I want to close my computer, silence my phone, and steep in the silence. [continue…]

A time for silence (and a tea recipe)

Before my son Henry flew back to Minnesota last week, I took him out shopping for vitamins.  Last winter, temperatures on his campus routinely dipped below zero; by the time he came home for Christmas break he’d had a nasty cold for two weeks.

Like every other parent of a child who’s living in a dormitory this flu season, I’m worried, and determined to do all the immune-system building that my sons will allow.  By the time I’d bought everything on my list of must-have supplements, vitamins, and homeopathic remedies, we’d spent over a hundred dollars on prevention and put together quite a good portable pharmacy for him to lug back to school.  Driving home from the health food store, I swallowed hard a couple of times and suddenly realized: I was the one feeling sick.

As soon as Henry left for the airport, I went back to the store and stocked up on vitamins and remedies for myself.  It’s been over five years since I’ve suffered so much as a sniffle, so I didn’t expect much to come of this, but the film crew was due on Sunday, and I knew I needed to be in good form.  I made it through the taping, the afternoon of socializing, the clean-up.  And on Monday I crashed, hard.

Now it’s Friday afternoon, and I still don’t have a voice.  The bug that’s got me seems to have stripped my vocal chords on its way to settling deep into my chest.  Fortunately, I didn’t have much scheduled for this week, and I cancelled the rest.  After two months of running around, visiting bookstores, talking on the phone, and checking things off my to-do list, I stopped.  I stopped moving and I stopped talking. I stopped calling people and stopped answering the phone.  Instead, I pulled on a pair of sweatpants, wool socks, and my fuzzy old gray fleece.  I brewed up a gallon of yogi tea on top of the stove.  Then I settled into the couch, picked up a friend’s manuscript I’d promised to read, and gave in to the quiet.

It occurs to me that the last two months have been like one long exhalation–of energy, intention, and fun. This week, my body quite effectively said, “enough is enough.”  It’s let me know that the time has come to be still, and to take a good, deep breath in.  We turned the clocks back last Sunday, and darkness comes now at five.  The leaves have fallen, the garden is cut back, done for this year. The turning of the season, from fall to winter, brings its own kind of quiet.  The full moon lingered this week in a clear, cold sky.  The nights feel long; the days, abbreviated.  Each morning, I step outside and fill the bird feeder with sunflower seeds, while the chickadees and woodpeckers and titmice flit back and forth from stonewall to tree, eagerly awaiting their turns at the breakfast buffet.  The birds can’t afford to slack off.  As for me, though, I am grateful for the stack of good books on the table, the empty space on the calendar, this time to regroup.  There is a time for silence.


Yogi Tea

I learned how to make this delicious tea from my Kundalini yoga teacher, who prepares it according to Yogi Bhajan’s instructions.  Here is the original recipe.  I brew mine strong, and let it steep for a long time for maximum intensity, then strain it into jars to store in the fridge, and heat up just one cup at a time, adding almond milk and raw honey to each individual cup as I go.


      1 Gallon Water


      30 cloves


      30 whole green cardamon pods


      30 whole black peppercorns


      1 lg finger of fresh ginger, thinly sliced


      5 sticks cinnamon


      1 teabag, Black Tea


    *Milk and Honey to taste (*optional)
  1. Bring water to boil.
  2. Add all spices except black tea bag. Boil 30 -45 min. Longer is stronger.
  3. Finally, add black tea bag and boil another 5 min. **The black tea is added last because it amalgamates the spices and sort of seals them. Also the tannins help assimilate the spices into the body.
  4. If adding milk & honey, do so after adding the tea bag and letting it steep– OR BETTER add milk and honey to individual cup or a small batch. That way you can store the raw tea in the fridge and prepare with milk and honey as you go.
  5. After adding milk and or honey, bring to a boil again, then shut immediately or keep on lowest flame to keep warm.

**Milk helps to ease the shock of the spiciness on the stomach and intestines so drink with milk if you’re sensitive.  Note: for a stronger tea you can let the spices sit and sink to the bottom. If the tea gets really strong you can cut it with more milk or reconstitute with a little water.

As the story has been told, when Yogi Bhajan was a military commander in India there was an epidemic among the troops. He ordered all of his men to fill their canteens with yogi tea and drink nothing else, not even water. His battalion was the only unit that didn’t get sick. It is said that yogi tea purifies the blood, lungs and circulatory system and has many more unseen benefits.  I do know that it lifts the spirits. I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking this tea every day.