Talking about silence

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A friend went for a happy break away with distant family, and returned home to find the bliss of silence awaiting her. She shared it with her readers, the deep need for solitude and silence, and how simply being with her plants, communing with her creatures, savouring the long views, the huge skies, and never speaking a word, she felt restored and at ease with herself.

Her readers, a band of like minds, responded that silence and solitude were necessities in their lives too. We discovered that we were not strange, we were not eccentric recluses, but that we were all strangely normal !

I thought about this, and realised that this group of women who had responded had probably reached that point in life when we want to experience our Hestia natures. Hestia was the Greek Goddess of the hearth and in her wonderful book, ‘The Goddesses in Everywoman’, Jean Bolen explores Hestia’s nature, and describes the Hestia archetype as being centred on home and family. She suggests that if Hestia wrote a book about her inner process she would call it Zen and the Art of Housekeeping.

Attention to the household, which includes the plants and animals in our care, is almost a spiritual process for a Hestia person. Women with this archetype find a sense of inner harmony as they cherish their surroundings and they know that this  nurturing of their corner of the planet, is a form of mindfulness. Jean Bolen called this time in which the Hestia archetype is totally absorbed in her  activities: ‘kairos’ time, a lovely Greek word describing that sense of being outside time, and feeling completely fulfilled. It’s also time-Less, we emerge from the ‘Zone’ as some call it, to find that time has flown while we were unconscious of the very word.

It feels like a creative activity, which it is, when we are so immersed in our tasks that time is meaningless. This is psychologically  nourishing, and we feel deeply satisfied and energised, powerful and peaceful when we come out of the ‘Zone’; like a writer feels  on completing a piece, a poet when her poem has emerged, or an artist after an inspired day at the easel.

Hestia women need and seek solitude, and as children they often felt out of kilter with their families, finding refuge in books and withdrawing emotionally. As adults, they need ‘A Room of Their Own’. The late Ardis Whitman, free-lance writer quoted  in ‘The Feminine Face of God’, said that: “…when we are surrounded by people, some of the passion and insight natural to us leaks away through the sieve of small talk. At your most daring moments you believe that what is going on is the ultimate human work – the shaping of a soul. The power of life comes from within: go there. Pray, meditate. Reach for those luminous places in yourself”

The obstacle to taking this time for self is women’s guilt. Too often they feel guilty at making time for themselves, fear they are being selfish, and so give away their vital self-nourishment by trying to please others. With maturity and the confidence of age, they can reclaim the time and space they need, knowing the truth of Rabbi Hillel’s ancient imperative: ‘ If not me –who? If not now – when?’

I have a friend whose stepmother is part Native- American. She was brought up by her Native -American grand-parents, and she told me:  “there was no idle chatter in our house. It was silent. My grandparents believed silence was sacred and should not be broken unless we had something of worth to say” …  Whenever I feel the need for silence at home, I say to my husband (politically incorrectly – sorry chaps!):  Red Indians! He gets the message.

Living in an intimate relationship with one person is so demanding when they no longer go to the office every day, in order to regain the silence and solitude that I need, we have a silent Tuesday, when no words are spoken. The house fills with something more than silence, a full, flowery, beautiful essence, which is only present in that magic space. Sometimes we have a Tuesday on a Thursday or a Sunday… whenever we feel we need it.

It isn’t just women who need solitude… I suspect there are many men too, who need the refreshment of peace and quiet… Thoreau famously wrote that he found it “wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time… I love to be alone”, while one of the early Desert Fathers, Abbas Isias said : ‘Love to be silent rather than to speak. For silence heaps up treasure, while speaking always scatters.’

We’re not talking of the harsh, ascetic, masculine discipline of a Trappist silence, but  respite from continual communication. This respite is more like immersing the self in a deep well of nourishment, from which we emerge refreshed and invigorated. In his book ‘A Time to Keep Silence’, famous travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor described his stay at a Benedictine monastery in France. The Benedictine order with its gracious silences and routines was a revelation to him, and he went through three stages – depression and despair for a few days, then days of deep exhausted sleep, from which he emerged feeling purified, energised, joyful and peaceful.  When he remarked one day to the Abbott what a blessed relief it was to refrain from talking all day long, the Abbott replied, ‘Yes, in the outside world, speech is gravely abused.”  And even sixty years ago, C.S. Lewis said: “We live… in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy.”

I haven’t mentioned the word introverted, as I feel that Jung has no place in this discussion since he felt that spirituality was a masculine quality. Yet the thoughtful, mindful qualities that both men and women develop when they seek silence, which he would define as introversion, does lead to a greater awareness of the spiritual side of life. This inward turning of focus is a path that both men and women are taking more and more in these turbulent times, and if anything women are more likely to take it than men.

I’ve always loved Hestia, the home-loving, feminine personality who is her own woman. Not all women have this side to their personality, but when we deeply focus on our inner life, or give ourselves time to calmly enjoy our household chores – sorting a cupboard or baking a loaf, we are getting in touch with that aspect of ourselves. We all have other archetypes in our natures, from Aphrodite to Athene, Demeter to Hera, the goddesses of love and careers, motherhood and marriage, but as we grow older and wiser it seems that Hestia is more present in our consciousness.

When I was a child we used to buy Vesta matches in red and yellow oblong boxes. I didn’t know then that Vesta was the Roman name for Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, believed to be present in the living flame. Her sacred fire was supposed to provide light, warmth, and heat for food, and her presence to inspire peace,  meaning, and sanctuary for family. These things seem very precious in our tempestuous times…  they are what can sustain us, and make our homes a serene and happy refuge – and not just for ourselves – but for those we love.

Celi’s post ‘The lack of chatter in the box’ at her beautiful blog  http://www.thekitchensgarden.com    inspired this post.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The French call them ‘bonne-bouche’, and I needed a little something to start an impromptu supper with friends. To make it fun, I collected together the big pink and maroon shells I’d collected from the beach, lined them with slices of cucumber, arranged on the cucumber four fat prawns lightly sauted in garlicky butter, and dabbed freshly made aoli over them. Sprinkled with finely chopped parsley, they were a hit, eaten with fingers, but served with a paper napkin that matched the rest of the table.

Food for Thought

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven… a time to keep silence and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes: chapter 3, verses 1 and 7

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73 Comments

Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, family, food, great days, happiness, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

73 responses to “Talking about silence

  1. Another amazing post of yours! I grew up with the French saying ” Si la parole est d’argent le silence est d’or” it translates to “If speech is silver silence is gold”
    Coming from a noisy household which I enjoy to bits I need a time in the day when I can close the door and bathe in silence, I call it regenerating my batteries which my kids fully respect fortunately 🙂
    There is so much beauty in silence… I believe it is underestimated. If you pay attention and listen to it, silence is noise.
    I wrote a post a long time ago on the subject which I think I called “And there was silence! Fiat silentium!” it was part of my writing course so, you see silence is a very dear subject to me.
    Thanks for this post!

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  2. I’m a Leo and common lore says how much a Leo person is gregarious, attention seeking, and all of that rah-rah-rah stuff. Throughout my career, even as CEO of an MNC, I always gave credit to my team, turned the limelight over to them, and preferred to slink into the background. People made snide remarks about my false modesty. But I actually preferred the peace and quiet which the background afforded.

    I enjoy respite from communication and you’re right – always emerged fully charged, to charge up the next hill.

    Everyday, unless I’m ill in bed, I take a walk or road bike for about an hour – just to get away from chatter. But then again, when I do meet sharp intellect combined with a generous spirit – I’m as fish in water. Yay! Bring on the rah-rah-rah!

    LOL, I can just see myself growing into an old recluse – okay, if not a recluse, definitely old 🙂

    Peace,
    Eric

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    • Hello Eric… I think ‘old’ is in store for us all, though I’m not there yet, I tell myself !
      I don’t know much about astrology, though it fascinates me… but presumably you have a good thick chunk of something else in your makeup which makes you more contemplative…
      I know for example that though I’m technically Gemini, I have lots of other planets whizzing around in my chart !!!!
      And yes, you’re so right, to encounter sharp intellect combined with a generous spirit is the best of company..and quite rare!!! A lovely definition of a good companion…

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  3. Words are indeed much abused. I loved reading this. I am lying on the red couch by the fire, with my battered body from that fall in the bad wind and so maybe I am feeling a little sorry for myself but your words brought tears to my eyes. And as you know my eyes are more likely to narrow and grit than cry. (I know teeth usually grit but i think eyes do too – flint and grit.) It is the most wonderful guilt lifting experience to know that my love of this solitary lifestyle is perfect and fine and in fact old as the hills. a very beautiful post. i am honoured to be sharing the planet and this little corner of cyber space with you.. have a glorious day.. c

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  4. Darling Celi,
    How lovely to hear from you, and so sorry to think of you , of all people, being laid low by the tornado.. I trust the fire is burning, and Boo and his baby are quietly keeping you loving company. I would love to be there, making you hot possets, laying my healing hands on your sore places, and giving you the nurturing that you deserve.! ( sorry about the possets – you’d probably prefer a good brandy!)
    I loved your beautiful words – thank you – such a gift from a discerning spirit like you, and you know how I feel about you and your little corner of cyber space… with love, Valerie

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  5. It is amazing to me how much talk is really noise without meaning. “Conversationless conversations,” I call them. Silence is so much more preferable. Perhaps that’s why we enjoy gardening, cooking and blogging.

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  6. Beautiful! Loved the nod to our myths of Hestia- and her role as such an important archetype- and the quote from Ecclesiastes- my FAVE OT book.
    Quiet is so underrated these days- as we remain constantly ‘plugged in’ to something or other.
    Wonderful post!

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  7. Sitting, silently, enjoying the idea that I may be a Hestia …..:)

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  8. I enjoy talking with people but I have to have time alone and time that’s quiet in order to be at my best and rejuvenate. I’ve written several posts about how so many people seem to have constant noise and are almost afraid to be alone and have silence. What a terrible thing to not feel comfortable on your own and how do you think if you don’t have silence? You don’t have to have it all the time in order to think, but I think everyone needs it, more often than many think. And technology only exacerbates the problem. Silence is one reason I so cherish our time in the mountains of Wyoming for vacation each year.

    janet

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  9. Yes, I know how you feel, Janet… the worst to me is the constant wallpaper that pretends to be music in shops and restaurants etc. I went to the dry-cleaners the other day, and she had no radio or noise at all… it felt like a blessed space, and I told her so. She is living in dread that the new DVD shop next door will play noise !!

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  10. Blessed silence. Silent days, just being nourished by quiet domestic bliss. I need to adopt them, I who have always felt duty-bound to rush in and fill any gap in a conversation. Thank you.
    (And yes, Swan Vestas!)

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    • Hello Josna – Swan Vesta – of course- had forgotten the first bit !
      Yes, I know that anxiety to fill the empty gaps … but now, it doesn’t matter, I find… gaps are full of significance! Maybe we all know that and are fearful of what is unspoken !!!

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  11. I find that the young are constantly in need of chatter to sustain them and that in turn disturbs those of us with a growing need for peace. So, we close the doors and retreat within a book or watching birds through the window until the sounds just fade away. Those children who’ve learned to immerse themselves in books probably grow up placing a value on complete quiet for part of their day and become adults like us who seek little oases in our busy lives.
    Chatter has it’s place but too much becomes meaningless. Peace and quiet is the time to enrich our lives with a recharge of the batteries. Though I spend a large part of my waking hours in communication via the web I love the fact that nothing is verbal and the only sounds are those I choose to make.
    xxx Massive Hugs Hestia / Vesta xxx

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    • Thank you David, it seems that many of us feel the same… thank heavens for home, a book and watching the birds, as you say!
      I wonder what the masculine equivalent of Hestia is…maybe the Hermit from the major Arcana of the Tarot cards !!!
      Lovely to hear from you, writing from my hearth-rug, Hestia

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  12. Hestia is not only my favourite Greek goddess, but I often practise being her. I dislike doing housekeeping chores when I’m hurried and distracted. When I notice this, I switch to Hestia-mode and try to be a mindful Hestia, creating a lovely home for a harmonious family. I’m silently being mindful while progressing with the chores. This is such a beautiful meditation. Instead of saying ‘Again laundry’, of ‘Why is there a-l-w-a-y-s- so much dust or dishes to clean’, I invite these moments of mindfulness. I think nuns in monasteries and monks in cloisters do the same when they aren’t praying; they work in their gardens, clean their churches, bake bread and sweep the floors with the same Hestia-like mindfulness that allows us to return to a quiet place inside us that allows mindfulness, or ‘being in God’.

    Wonderful post, Valerie. Greetings from your Twin Hestia sister from the Netherlands.

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    • This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Valerie. A few comments.

      Men also seek silence and they too can feel guilty about it: here the stress also comes from the work ethic – “be up and doing”. However, culturally-approved paths to silence have evolved, like fishing.

      Different cultures, even if very close in all senses, can show different reactions to silence and stillness: for example in Ireland not long ago (I’m not sure about now) it was common to see people resting their elbows on bridges and staring into the moving water of the river. In England I suspect people would worry they were suicidal.

      You can find strange mistakes in the output of most thoughtful people. I find Jung inspiring and revealing, yet he had prejudices about Africans which a simple approach through his own theories would have shown to reveal his own fears rather than African characteristics. So I see no reason why his thoughts shouldn’t be revealing about silence for women as well as men, just as someone who misunderstands and rejects another religion may offer thoughts which followers of that religion may find fruitful.

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      • Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a long and interesting comment Simon… loved the picture of the Irish standing contemplating the river… hope they weren’t worrying about not having a job, says the cynic in me!!
        What a wonderful thought that fishing is a response to the need for silence and solitude… you’re so right, I’d never thought of it like that…
        It makes it sound quite poetic !

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      • Thanks, Valerie. In those days while Ireland was much less rich than England, the Irish economy was on the up.

        As for fishing, someone polled a lot of fishers (they are nearly all fishermen) and asked them what attracted them to fishing. The peace was the number one answer.

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    • Dear Paula, thank you for your lovely lovely comment – it was like a poem for Hestia, and I shall read and return to it. You said it so beautifully, and your words reminded me of the wonderful words of 17th century Brother Lawrence in France, describing how he did his chores in the monastery kitchen, spending a life-time of joyful service in total serenity and peacefulness, no matter what the rush and bustle elsewhere. Love and greetings from a distant hearth !!!

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  13. I found myself silently smiling the whole way through this. Especially since yesterday I had a day to myself, for the first time in 3 months, and felt so energized at the end of it. Thanks to Celi for sending me here.

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    • Thank you so much Joss, so good to hear from you… and lovely that you came from gorgeous Celi’s blog
      Glad the blog made you smile… and gosh, how you must have needed your first day of peace and quiet!

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  14. Valerie, as I read your message this morning I was moved by the beautiful voice of the image you shared. I was always told when I was young, that I was too quiet, and yet I always thought God gave us two ears and 1 mouth. My mother told me I was like her mother who was of native American heritage and her fathers mother who was also the same. They would always be quiet and you would barely know they were near, but when they spoke it was always something profound, some piece of beautiful wisdom that would inspire. I love to always take time to smell the roses each day, and to spend as much quiet time as possible with God. My wife of 36 years agrees with my mother. Thanks for this wonderful blessing today…my spirit embraced your lovely words with open arms. God bless

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    • Wendell, thank you so much for this beautiful comment… I found it so validating too, that your ancestors also practised sacred silence, as my friends mother had told me..
      It sounds to me as though you’ve found the perfect balance in your life, though living our truth may not always be comfortable for those nearest to us, but it mustn’t change us !

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  15. YOU SPOKE FOR ME!! Finally it was put into words what I have always felt and needed! Thank you so much!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

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  16. I thought when I retired that I’d be bored. I am not at all. I treasure the silence of the day and the time alone. Sometimes I worry about becoming a boring recluse but when in the mood I can still party on!

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    • I hope after reading everyone’s comments that you’re not worried about being a boring old recluse any more !!!
      And oh yes – I’m not sure who the goddess of parties is, but I think she’s never far away, waiting for the chance to enjoy a good laugh, and a song and dance with us !

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  17. Amy

    I agree, it does take a certain maturity to understand… thus Hestia is more present in our consciousness. Thank you, Valerie!
    Btw, the link somehow did not take me to Celi’s…

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  18. Wonderful words 🙂 It seems you, Celi and Hestia speak for many of us who find peace in quiet pursuits. I value my Hestia nature, and prefer Zen and the Art of Housekeeping, but the same tasks when done hurriedly feel soul destroying.

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    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting…you’re so right about doing tasks without that mindfulness that is so nourishing…and it’s so validating to find that so many of us feel the same !!!

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  19. Oh how I love this post. I do love those precious moments of silence as well. I was recently speaking to a coworker and we were saying that we didn’t mind our commute to work because it actually gave us some moments of silence – and solitude – rarely found on certain days. How odd, we said, that being in a car would turn out to be a moment of calm and mediation. I will pass along your post to her as I’m sure she will love it.

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  20. Thank you for giving voice to the need for silence and it’s natural occurance . I was wondering if I was unusual in my need for solitude after a life of action and mingling. You always hlep me feel more normal.

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    • Isn’t it interesting how many of us feel the same… and also that we wonder if we are out of step with everyone else because we do feel like this…which is part of our natural process…so glad you enjoyed the post,
      I’ve been amazed at the wonderful comments from so many of us feeling the same way…

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  21. Jung was an idiot.
    Spirituality and the need for solitary reflection is shared by both genders.
    The gods and goddesses are two parts of a whole, just as masculine and feminine attributes are complementary.

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  22. I used to feel guilty about needing my solitude until I realized that God was calling me “to be” in His presence. Now I enjoy it and look forward to that time and I am better equipped to handle the every day ups and downs.

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  23. Hello Patti,
    Yes, you’re so right, the Being is as important as the Doing … Lovely to hear from you…

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  24. There is too much to comment about in your blog so I will keep it to one thing. Yes, we all need silence to find and be with ourselves.

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  25. My dear Valerie! An extraordinary post and one that resonates in our busy, confusing world. My husband and son enjoy a meditative state of being, whereas I have enjoy the silence in the midst of activity. I am finding that as I grow older the need to be encircled within a group dynamic decreases as I transition. But I do enjoy seeing a new generation taking over, recalling the time when I had unlimited energy.

    Although I have not done a complete study – and I think that you would be more knowledgeable in the regard – I have wondered if Hestia and Kuan Yin are similar in their nurturing and compassion. There seems to be a growing need to have the female presence in our spirituality.

    “There is no right or wrong path. There is only the path that you choose. Whatever you choose, there will be many opportunities for you to grow and expand. “Kuan Yin

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  26. What a fascinating train of thought you’ve set up, Rebecca, and one I’ve been thinking of writing about for some time…. Christianity has had to enthrone Mary because we seem to need a feminine face as part of our completeness on the spiritual path… and Mary and Kuan Yin share most of the same attributes. The Greeks ( and then the Romans) had many female faces in their spiritual pantheon of course, and I would think that a combination of Ceres the goddess of motherhood, as well as Hestia would add up to the feminine qualities present in Kuan Yin …
    I love Kuan YIn … her compassion is such a profound concept, and those who connect with her seem to have had such exquisite experiences…

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    • I’m looking forward to hearing more…

      It seems that in our desire for absolutes, we have canonized our belief systems. Humanity seeks to understand the infinite, but we cling to finite possibilities. We are an interesting species, are we not?

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  27. Pingback: Such wonderful friends, art, and articles | Mindful Drawing

  28. Luanne

    Valerie, what a marvelous way to describe it. Hestia. I’d never considered that. I also read above about Kuan Yin. I have a statue of her in the garden outside my window and when I look out at it, I feel calm spread through my body. That all is right.

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  29. What a beautiful reflection on silence this is, Valerie. I’ve always loved Hestia. She’s the one I come home to.

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  30. A beautiful post Valerie, I love the power of silence and would spend much of my time embracing it if I could. And Hestia (though I tend to think of her as Vesta, personally) is one of the goddesses that most resonates with me. Sarah Maitland recently wrote a book about silence, which I enjoyed greatly.

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    • Hello Andrea, Thank you so much for your lovely comment… Oh, yes, Sarah Maitland’s book I treated myself to last Christmas… though I was a little disappointed in it… I felt she didn’t know or understand enough about depths psychology to make sense of what happened to her in the silence, so it felt a bit superficial… but lots of intriguing facts…

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  31. I’ve been trying to get to this post since it came out…Love the part about Hestia’s hearth, and the connection you make with silence and the more earthy endeavours of home. For me, it’s about quietness in the brain as much as outside and with most of my time being at a computer these days, the lack of tangible, sensory tending to the solitude of earth is getting desperate. Most people I meet find the need for silence bewildering, but I grew up with it…so it’s more like oxygen to me. Red Indians! I’m gonna have to remember that 🙂

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    • Yes Alarna it’s Native Americans these days – anything else I’ve been informed, is insulting! Sounds to me as though you need a rose plant – as in The Little Prince by St Exupery ! Do you know it? One of my favourite poetic wisdom parables !

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  32. Valerie – this is perfect! I love your beautiful focus on Hestia and all she stands for. Your wonderful words remind me to regain the calm in my solitude. I spend a lot of time on my own during the day (I love solitude) but tend to fill it with a looming mountain of things-that-must-be-done, before the family gets back in the evening. Then, even if I have several hours alone, time can feel too compressed – and the day becomes pressured, stressed and lacking in any sense of reaching anywhere by the end of it (that guilt thing kicks in far too often!) Whereas, when I am in a Hestia-space, time expands, even if it passes quickly – and I feel that I’ve filled it well. I think I’ve become far too enmeshed in the habit of grabbing every moment to try to run up that mountain! Now, I will think of your lovely post, and of Hestia, as a focus for reminding myself to regain the dreaming-time that used to seem so easy to achieve, and which has always been so precious to me – but which eludes too often now… Thank you, Valerie, for this lovely oasis of words…

    Melanie x

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    • Dear Melanie, How lovely to hear from you and read your thoughts, which mirror the experience of so many, I’m sure… When I feel the way you describe I just have to remember Montaigne’s words:” Alas, I have done nothing this day! What! Have you not lived? It is not is not only the fundamental but the noblest of your occupations”. I always love your messages… and hearing from you, Valerie XXX

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      • Dear Valerie – thank you so much for yet more wise thoughts… Montaigne’s words are the perfect antidote to the dreary corners of perception we sometimes get stuck in. I shall remind myself of them often!

        I’m so sorry for taking so long to catch up with you again (I don’t seem to have been very good at settling into those Hestia moments lately!) Though I did manage to make the Christmas cake back in November; quietly stirring in lots of love and memories from the past year, which was lovely. But, the days keep rushing by! I’ve loved reading your beautiful, life-affirming posts as they’ve arrived by email – but, haven’t been able to find the mind-space to conjure up the comments I’d like to leave here… Gradually catching up, now I’m back in Blog-land!

        Melanie xx

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      • Dear Melanie, It’s always lovely to hear from you, and I really appreciate your thoughtful and lively comments when I know how many pressures there are on you. Though we’ve never met, I feel so fond of you, and so value your warmth and intelligence and sheer goodness. It’s lovely to know that you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, but never think there is an onus on you to comment. And when you do it’s always a delight – Valerie XXXX

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