Solitude, Stillness & Silence



It’s challenging to weave in 30 degree temperatures, but I am doing it, calling on the homesteading ancestors of Southern Appalachia to give me fortitude. As I pass the shuttle and pump the peddles, I’m listening to courting hawks circle and call in the field where the flax grew last summer. You wouldn’t guess mating season is close from the weather today, for we are having real winter this year, the longed for version in which everything stops and gets quiet due to snow and ice disallowing anything else. We opine for this because we find it so challenging to stop ourselves, even knowing how necessary it is to our health and well-being. The treacherous 46 miles of mountain roads between Celo and Swannanoa have kept me from this porch and by my woodstove for weeks now, and with every inch of cloth I add, I am reflecting on what seeds this winter’s enforced stillness has been growing in me.


I did expect when I planted the flax seeds for this shroud with Melanie that the hands-on process of creating it would make my death concrete, and having it as a couch throw would keep me from forgetting it. I check in on my progress with this by placing my hand underneath the weave to imagine my whole body in it, and feel a small jolt of surprise to see that I am alone in there, with the many community hands that have been part of this shroud-making project present in memory and story only. This should be an “of course.” So why do I detect a bit of fear? Dear God of the Loom and the Flax and the Shroud, can you help me prepare for standing alone without company at the precipice of such deep mystery?


As a person who loves to nurture a big vision, I have lots of practice with the collaborating side of life, where the consequence of sitting still and listening is the creation of something real and helpful in the boisterous company of many. I never tire of watching people get inspired with the hope of what could be, and then step into making it so. With this shroud’s recent small shock of a reminder that it will only have space for me, I find I only possess a few seeds of stories for the antithesis of growing a project, which is to have the skillset for letting something useful and beautiful die. Rather than use the times of doing absolutely nothing, sitting by myself, and letting silence speak as a project springboard, the reward of hatching this shroud-making collaboration is supposed to be my acquiescence for the ultimate silence, stillness and solitude that is the death of me.


What have I actually seen of unbecoming that can teach and prepare me? Well, I have held the hand of a friend as she transitioned from being capable of communicating to never speaking with her human voice again. As she did this work, I read her favorite Mary Oliver story Bird, in which an injured ocean gull she rehabilitated gives joy in its recovery until it can’t anymore, and dies. It is sad, and I teared as I read to her what we both had to do--part ways and go on alone. I think she asked for this story so she could hear Mary’s instructions: yes be sad about having to die, and then go on and do it anyway. You too can do what Bird did--in the silence of the dark night, while everyone else is sleeping.


Another was the birth of my last daughter, in which I managed to integrate the lessons of the previous two labors and go inside the pain rather than resist it. While the people surrounding me got increasingly insistent about what I needed to do, I refused to follow orders, as I was seeing as if for the first time, my body’s innate wisdom. I was alone in a silence of no longer trying or needing to control what it did, and in doing so making it possible for a new human to have their first experience of being a solitary.


With another pass of the shuttle, I see other ways the seeds of this shroud are beginning to un-make me. How I am listening with a new ear in conversations with my daughters for what else they might need to hear from me. How I am paying closer attention to the little deaths—the disappointments, the giving up of depleted ways of being—not to study the content of the life-giving thing that could come into the space they took up, but to memorize the process of how exactly I managed to let go. How I am more fiercely defending my right to be alone, leaving behind the guilt of not saying “yes” to the many asks of my time, and expecting instead that people justify why they must disturb me. It seems that with every inch of shroud my weaving grows, I lose a row of denial.


The second of three panels is almost done, and a vision is growing as this shroud and what it will hold edge ever closer towards completion. It is a vision of my last hours, and in it I see my loved ones laying me beside my river teacher. Hearing it reawakens my body’s own river wisdom, and I feel the courage to turn away once and for all from human voices of encouragement just as I did in childbirth. Then I flow on out of this world. I know this re-wilding vision is for me in how it disappears my fear. In imagining it, I find myself returned to the vision that began this shroud-making project, which began exactly where this one ends – with me, in grateful solitude, silence, and stillness.


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