Who is this one who’s convinced she must improve me?
She tramped through the oxalis on a wet January evening, wondering at the recirculating advice device that seemed to be her brain.
A “retreat of solitude.” That’s the way she had described her coming week in the half-collapsed cabin, hunkering up to a leaky wood stove.
“Alone with my own thoughts” she had said. “Away from the breakneck speed of screens, terrorists, presidential candidates. (Really? Him? Again? She thought. That’s reason enough to hide in the woods for two years, not just a week.)
She had loved the packing for her one-woman, one-week Thoureau-esque sojourn.
Figs. Almond butter. Five kinds of tea. A dozen candles. One flower in a pot. Two soft, well-worn comforters. A quilt made by her Grandma Esther. Layers of warm, soft clothing and pajamas. Two pair of slippers and one pair of boots.
Chocolate. Now she had anticipated everything.
And then, after a two-hour drive through the mountains, she had arrived. Unpacked. Lit a fire. Fondly surveyed the ambience. It was just as she had imagined it.
But now what?
There was a buzz in her ears. She’d never noticed that before. Was it the after-sounds from the drive there? Tinnitus? No matter, she thought. She decided to lie down, rest from the road noise.
And the internal voices weaved in and out, up and down. Full of their bad advice, she thought, remembering her favorite poem. She slept. When she awoke it was twilight. She grabbed a couple of figs and a handful of nuts. Drank the last of her coconut water, the fuel for the trip here. Then she slept without dreams in the complete silence of the forest.
The buzz was still there when she opened her eyes at first light, an alto mosquito in her ears keeping her company. So much for the silence that brought me here, she thought.
After that, the buzz seemed to have set up a station in the center of her brain. It reminded her of the sweet, calm voice that had guided her to create her getaway. Only this drone was far more bossy.
First thing tomorrow you’ve got to start walking. Four blocks at first, then each day more.
When she opened her journal and picked up her gel pen, she noticed a list taking form. She scribbled away, in awe of the force that had overtaken her. Finally she had to pause to let her wrist unwind.
She re-read the words that had spewed over the page.
It was a bucket list for self-improvement.
Cut your hair.
Lose twenty pounds. Before summer.
Sign up for that Spanish class.
Adopt an Indonesian girl through the Save a Child Foundation that guy on the bus keeps telling me about.
Organize the photos of my family. My life.
Oh yes! My spiritual life! Meditate. Make use of this journal to find the rich inner vein. Get silent.
That’s why she’d taken the retreat! She’d almost forgotten.
After that, on and on. Someone inside her head had a very full agenda for her.
I’m my own makeover project, she thought.
She tugged on her boots, desperate to escape her out–of-control inner Pygmalion.
At once she was welcomed by the mist. As it settled over her hair and jacket, she felt an instinctive pull to the creek below. As she strode toward the creek she noticed she was walking faster and faster, as if she were trying to escape a stalker. She superstitiously glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. She stopped. Filled her lungs with the moist air. Exhaled. Filled her lungs again with the lichen-laced beauty of the surrounding scrub oaks.
Glancing up, there it was. A doe. The word floated through her mind. (A female deer, the voice sang).
But then, for a breath or maybe two, she stood, their eyes locking. And there was no word for the feeling. One being. And there was also no word for the Silence.