Notes on Silence… is here!

IMG_4104.jpgMany of you know I’ve been working on co-authoring a book with Patrick Shen. We lovingly titled the work Notes on Silence based on our extensive deep-dive into studying silence over the last four years. It includes nearly 300 pages of original essays, images, quotes, notes, and transcripts from the silence experts featured in the documentary film, In Pursuit of Silence (including but not limited to Pico Iyer (author of The Art of Stillness), Maggie Ross (author of Silence: A Users Guide 1 & 2), Julian Treasure (CEO, The Sound Agency), Helen Lees (Author of Silence in Schools), and many more. Patrick and I discuss encounters with silence in spaces like Thomas Merton’s hermitage and an anechoic chamber in Minnesota (Orfield Labs, named the quietest place on earth by Guinness Book of World Records), we expand on the dualistic nature of silence and sound, we examine religions and spiritual notations of silence, and offer numerous personal notes on our individual observations of and moments with silence.

THE BOOK IS HERE and we’ll be shipping out our first run of only 200 books this Wednesday, April 18th, 2018. Patrick and I will be signing all of the first edition copies which you can order here. If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can listen to our recent interview on the Encountering Silence Podcast.
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Incredibly grateful for this generous endorsement from author Carl McColman:

Notes on Silence is a treasure. Cassidy Hall and Patrick Shen bring a poet’s heart and an artist’s eye to the ineffable, wondrous mystery of silence, and in doing so they have created a book that invites you by multiple passageways to the hidden place where mysticism, beauty and emptiness dance. Their reflections, combined with striking photography and interviews with over a dozen silence lovers, make for a thoughtful celebration of its essential subject. It’s more than just a companion volume to their vitally important documentary In Pursuit of Silence — it’s a luminous work in its own right.”

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(A brief side note about the significance of the cover: The top and bottom images featured are photos by Patrick and I from The Redwoods Monastery and a forest in Taiwan. It wasn’t until later that we realized this wasa lovely representation of the book’s contents: East and West… The vastness of expressions and ideas gathering together in the peaceful images of trees… The inexpressible vastness and beauty of silence.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creative Intention

RedwoodsBefore embarking on the winding roads leading to the Redwoods Monastery last weekend, I briefly stopped to rediscover a friendship that has been on pause for 14 years. This dear friend is an artist whose spirit and company can take anyone on an inward exploration. Her words are as striking as her movements and depending on the space from which one encounters them, they can evoke the deepest of emotions and awaken the most tired of travelers.

“When it’s done right, you don’t know who is doing it…”

Among the many things spoken between us, the simple statement that she made above about a piece she created seemed to echo throughout my weekend. This spoke to me about intention, specifically the artist’s intention when it comes to their creative work. Her desire to give the viewer a blank space, an empty room, where one is allowed to project their own experiences and story. This ego-removed-intention struck me as perhaps the place of true artistry, where one most naturally births their creativity for whomever it resonates with.

“Intention is powerful, and the power of its workings remain something of a mystery, though its effects can be profound and wide-ranging.” Maggie Ross, author

Most often, creativity seems to be a modern day paradox that is all about receiving attention amidst the creative project and for the creative output. I believe creativity’s original intention, with the ego removed, has been lost within the chaos. I often catch myself joining this confusion; creating and thinking what will make people turn around to see?, instead of asking myself what is gnawing and nagging at my heart to be spoken? or what is real to and for me?. I’m struck by this need in modern society to be relevant — but remember that relevancy does not transcend — relevancy is a safe box with limits and clarity. I don’t want clarity when I create; there is no certainty in the midst of innovation.

“Our task is not to make an amazing thing called art. Our task is to get a thrill from what we see. When we are moved, we will move others.” Jerry Fresia, painter

Redwoods

Many of us in this creative paradox of today find ourselves wanting to go away, disappear, shut things down, evaporate, and dismiss the sheddings of everyday life. Yet, I wonder, alongside my experiences of this, what does that solve? I’ve tried this a time or two in various ways, ponder I’m maybe even trying this now as I travel to the Redwoods. Yet, I always end up back in this space between wasting my time driving out the influences and realizing that such a fight leaves little to no time for actual creativity. My energy is often given more to pushing life away than to centering myself in the midst of everyday life and moving towards a space with the least possible amount of ego involved (I do believe it’s impossible to remove it all!).

“No matter what the writer may say, the work is always written to someone, for someone, against someone.” Walker Percy, author

Despite my yearning to create uninhibited, I cannot deny the influence of life’s emissions: television, marketing, music, likes, shares, comments, notoriety, people of influence, and so on. I spend the majority of my time in creativity with someone else in mind, with society in mind. It seems I’m more often than not creating for someone else or to someone else as opposed to creating from an authentic space that organically flourishes. Creating from an ego-removed-intention invites me daily to embark on what things I am to speak to, let go of, express, and offer (noting that often this offering is just for me and/or simply a part of my own journey).

“As soon as I am taking my focus off my own finite being and pointing my lens out, I’m still filtering my work through my own experience.” Joe Henry, musician

As I said goodbye to the Redwoods and carried on into my everyday world, I couldn’t help but circulate my car’s atmosphere with the words and mysteries that arose. The untouched radio, the open road, the words unveiling nothing and everything; I was opened once again to the vastness of the mysteries, happily carrying more answerless questions, open to continually letting go of what myself and others think — open to what I am to create.

It seems my roughest edges are most often the precise things I need to embrace and love as opposed to rid myself of. The fight against society’s influences is ultimately a fight against myself. The daily encounters that make me cringe are a part of me and the artist that I am. But, perhaps it isn’t a fight and only a greater opportunity for love. A chance to love more from my position as a fellow human that is among and a part of all our brokenness. After all, art comes from a raw and naked place; the artist is vulnerable, unclothed, and sensitive. Perhaps this is the purest of spaces to create from; perhaps this is the space of ego-removed-intention.
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Originally posted on my HuffPost Blog 

Redwoods Monastery • Whitethorn, CA

The Redwoods Abbey was founded in 1962, when the founding sisters arrived during the winter, to see if they could withstand the trials of weather. Now over 50 years later it turns out they could withstand the winter. Through my interactions with these sisters, in words and experiences, the common theme of non-judgment arose; it is obvious that this feeling in me was born from the depth of love these women have for God, one another, and each person that crosses their path.

I always said I was just an ocean girl, but that was before I met The Redwoods. Perhaps it’s the trees that are thousands of years old next to, and seemingly supporting, a tradition that’s nearing the same age; or maybe it’s the silent roar and kinetic stillness of the forest; or how each of those trees smiled upon me as they gazed upon me and our sunshine. It doesn’t make a difference where this admiration within me came from. All this to say there’s something very special about this place. It cannot be pinpointed or explained, most wonderful things can’t, but it simply is. Also, it isn’t something you’d come across in a day or a vibe you’d get after a few hours – it seems one really has to submit themselves to the traditions both of the forest and the monastery to get this sense of awe.

The topic of mindfulness and the focus on the present moment was something that seemed to resound in my time there. As I was sitting with the other guests for a meal one night, we were all trying to come up with words to describe what the forest meant to us, when one finally said: “It is as if they’re saying, ‘everything is going to be ok.’” We all sat somewhat baffled at the simplicity and accuracy of her statement. Recognizing how vast the world is – in nature, population, size, but ESPECIALLY nature – seems to not only set my soul at ease, but also gives me an acute awareness of the precise moment before me.

“…being able to hold whatever is before me without having to work on it,” was said to me of silence. It isn’t about what I need to do next, the depth of emotion arising in me, the laundry I left somewhere, the panic in lack of motion – it’s that ability to sit with all those things arising and letting them pass to come back to the silence, come back to the space, the peace, the ease. “The moments of silence that come: they’re precious.”

In a previous post I talked about how more questions than answers seem to come up and I’ve been quite glad with that. At the Redwoods Abbey this topic came up again and I was reminded, “the answers are in the questions.” This doesn’t mean some fixated point or determinate decision. To me, it is more about the letting go of the need to know, being ok with the unknowing. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “for it is in giving that we receive.” Which leads me to think, it is asking that we know. To me, not knowing (and coming to peace and acceptance of that) is gaining more knowledge and insight than any amount of false pride in knowing.  To have any sense of knowing is a false sense of control; to have any concept of control is to forge the signature on the check of fate – I cannot sign that. There are few things in life I have control over. In the long run, however, we have no say of birth or death –I have no say in the things that make me more vulnerable than I care to admit. Yet I still find myself sitting with the false layer of knowing, to protect those vulnerabilities that will continue to be exposed.

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“God breaks the heart again and again and again, until it stays open.” Hazrat Inayat Khan

From The Desert Fathers, by Helen Waddell:

“The Abbot Anthony said, “who sits in solitude and is quietly hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart.” …”

“One might say I had decided to marry the silence of the forest. The sweet dark warmth of the whole world will have to be my wife. Out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secrets that are whispered by all lovers in their beds all over the world. So perhaps I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I attempt to cultivate this plant in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most rare of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle and the Cross. Nulla silva talem profert. There is only one such tree. It cannot be multiplied. It is not interesting.” Thomas Merton

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