From an interview...
BILL MOYERS: That's what intrigues me about you Buddhists. Is you go for long periods of time deep in to realms the rest of us are hardly aware of. What was the longest period you experienced silence?
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: I guess a year.
BILL MOYERS: A year. What happens during that period?
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: The first thing that happens is you climb the walls. This is personal with me. It doesn't happen anymore. But because the detox is so intense, I remember thinking like, someone coming to the door to just drop off a note or something. And I felt like I was in Kansas, and Oz was outside the door. You know, it's like sensory deprivation. But, gradually, what begins to happen is that you sink so deeply into what life has been distracting you from. Because it's a definition of no distractions. That's the purpose of the retreat, no distractions. You quickly learn that distractions are not just phone calls and emails and outer phenomena. Our own mind, and our longings, and our cravings, and our fantasies and everything are also major distractions. And, as time goes on, and you're feeding it less because no talking. You begin to sink deeper into the undistracted state. And then you begin to realize that life is always pulling you away from being fully present.
BILL MOYERS: Fully present. What is that?
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: It is basically a wide awake state where your sense perceptions are wide open, in the tradition I follow. And if you could imagine seeing and hearing, tasting and smelling and so forth, without any filter between you and your experience. It's as if suddenly all of your sense perceptions have been like narrow little slits. And now they're wide open. Like they have no outer dimension. But let me say this, if the result of that life was that I had to stay in that seclusion, I wouldn't think I had it measured up to a hill of beans. So, for me, I always go out and in, in and out of this kind of situation. Because I want to go deeper. But, the only reason I want to go deeper is to be there for other people in increasingly difficult situations. It's kind of based on deeply longing to be free of suffering and then it extends to wanting other people to be free of suffering. And the suffering that you see escalated in the world. And one of the principle teachings of the Buddha was that he said, "I teach only two things. Suffering and the end of suffering." So this conviction that sentient beings could be free of suffering, they could end their suffering. That doesn't mean physical pain. It doesn't mean outer circumstances being unpleasant. It means what you do with the things that happen.
(from http://www.pbs.org/moyers/print/faithandreason107_print.html. I recommend watching the video; it was well-worth it for me. Quite lovely, and full of wonderful reminders. You can watch it here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/portraits_chodron.html)
At times when Jake and I are doing silent parties I feel, quite honestly, that I could never talk again and be happy. Of course, I go back to talking. But thinking of taking a year to not talk, to be silent, well, it makes my heart beat faster. In those hours that Jake and I are silent I feel like the volume knob has been turned up on life, my sense of hearing expands, and my sense of being in the moment expands. I wonder about the potential for doing this for days at a time, what boxes it would open up, the challenges, the joys. The question is, what would a year of silence entail? Could I make music (maybe no singing, but banging on pots and pans is okay?) or, no banging on pots and pans because that is not silence. Could I whistle? Could I be around others? I suppose it depends on the intention of the year of silence - whether it be isolation, or to limit distractions, or simply to not talk - or all three. I hear that some retreats ask you not to write for the whole retreat, while others ask you not to talk to others, while others still have other rules...
What if I went on a silent roadtrip? With as minimal noise as possible. No music in the car, no friends to talk with, no writing... What if school didn't ask us to write, ever? How would classes be run? What would teachers expect? What if families had a silence day, where no one spoke to each other, but they cooked silently together, ate silent dinners, washed dishes silently, sat around in the living room, without the TV on this time, just sitting... I wonder how they ways in which we relate to one another would change...