Noble Silence: Being Ourselves and Being Together

by Sarah

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Joseph and I are keeping our shared projects organized.  This time I wanted to write about something that’s often harder for us: staying engaged with the projects we are working on separately.

It is easy to prioritize the things that we are working on together–someone else is counting on it and it’s fun to discuss and update.  Even right at this moment I have prioritized writing for our shared website.  It just feels more urgent.  We know we need to carve out time for our own personal practices and work, but those are often the realms that fall off the bottom of the list.  I’ve noticed this before when trying to juggle shared work and individual work.  The shared work has a denser gravitational pull.

The gravity seems to be even stronger when the person I’m sharing the project with is Joseph, my love and partner.  Joseph and I have been together for more than a year-and-a-half now.  It feels like we’ve been together for a long time, but really we are still early in our journey of negotiating which life spaces we share, and which paths we each need to walk on our own.  We are each learning how to be ourselves and be together, even while those selves are growing, and are changing in response to the life we are building together.

One little piece we’ve been experimenting with lately is getting up earlier and keeping a “noble silence” for the first two hours that we are awake.  The term “noble silence” comes from the Zen Center where we both studied.  It’s is a way of protecting an inward-facing experience, even when you are with a group of people.  During the monastic practice period much of the day is spent in noble silence–no checking-in with your roommate or chatting with a friend over tea. I actually found it the opposite of restrictive–it was freeing not to have to make conversation or to process events out loud.  I could just settle into my own unmediated experience.

During our morning silent period now, we try not to interact, and we each do whatever we need to–whether stretching, meditating, writing, studying, planning, researching.  Actually, I’m not sure exactly what Joseph is working on (and maybe he’ll post about that soon!), because we are using privacy to protect the creative space of our mornings.  I’ve been working on getting clear on my new offer (see more about Sarah).

This noble silence is useful now, while we are sharing a space and projects, and I think it will only become more useful when we are sharing an even smaller (tiny house!) space.  Being able to be in the same space together without always interacting seems like a useful tool in our… how-we-are-together tool belt.

Even though we both know it is important, it’s so easy to skip the morning silent time.  Other more tangible tasks are written on our window to-do list.  And sleeping in is pretty nice too.  We usually only manage it about half the days of the week, and haven’t fit in a full two-hour period for a while now–even though we know it’s one of the supports that makes the rest of the projects possible!  After writing about publicly I hope we’ll be ever more compelled to actually do the practice more often…like maybe every day.

How do you make sure to prioritize the things that may not feel urgent but are actually important?  When you’re working closely with another person (especially a partner), how do you also keep your individual journey going?  I’d love to hear any of your reflections in the Comments.


8 thoughts on “Noble Silence: Being Ourselves and Being Together

  1. Sarah – did you take the photo of the bark?! It’s beautiful…and would make a fantastic textile print.

    Even here in DC, a land of human doings more so than human beings, I know so many people who come into the office early because it’s the closest thing to a silent period they can achieve in life. When I take over the world, maybe we’ll institute morning silence in the workplace! I’m glad it’s helping to create a good space in your home and your relationship. 🙂

    1. Hi Holly, Yes I did take the picture of the bark – it is a tree near our house! Thank you 🙂 I like how super-close-ups can transform things sometimes. I look forward to when you take over the world and create morning silence everywhere… and lots of other improvements!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    We have not met before but Joe is a very good friend of mine. Very happy to see you both making this journey and how happy you make each other.

    I loved your personal thoughts. The idea of ‘noble silence’ is one everybody should implement, whether you are single or in a relationship. But in a relationship communication is the only way you stay in sync. Inviting each others thoughts and ideas about your personal goals, aspirations, projects or whatever, I think, gives those projects that weight because your partner is now a part of it, whether as a silent partner or with thoughts and ideas of their own. They push you in ways that are subtle and profound and unique because of the bond you share. Let them revel in your individuality and them send you off feeling even more excited about whatever you’re doing.

    Just my thoughts. Look forward to meeting you Sarah

    1. Hi Hakim,
      Thank you for your thoughts and for engaging so deeply with what I wrote. I agree you about the importance of communication, and how we can push and support each other. I am appreciating finding our way towards a balance, a rhythm, in what to share and what protect in our individual hearts for a little while longer. I look forward to meeting you also! Warmly, Sarah

  3. I really love the idea of a “noble silence” it’s a very simple way to keep your priorities in tact so that you can do what you need to do without feeling that you have wasted time socializing. it’s wonderful that you both have a relationship where you understand the value of each others time.

    1. Thank you, Khala! Yes, I think we both value each others’ time, and we also value the fruits of solitude… there are some things that only become visible in the quiet of my own heart. I think Noble Silence is about making a little space for those things, even in the midst of a relationship with a lot of closeness and shared-ness.

  4. Dear Sarah,

    Noble silence for the married couple at Zen center is a true art! When to keep it -and when to break it- can be really skillful during a sesshin, for example. When does my partner need me to tell her I love her and when does she need me to let her suffer with her swollen knees? And how often has it been helpful to discuss our reactions to an evening dharma talk and when does that just keep us up in the throes of “wrong speech Wednesday?” Great post. Also, noble silence is a great safe guard if you fall into the habit of calling your partner every time you’re looking for your watch, your glasses, your socks…you know…like, “Hey Lulu, nevermind…hey Lo? nevermind…”

    Keep up the good work!

    deep bow,

    1. Dear Kogen,
      Yes! Thank you for these reflections of working with (or, around) noble silence from within Zen Center. It is an art, this how to be together and be our own selves stuff… I laughed in recognition with the “nevermind” part. Deep bow to you and thanks for being in touch! Sarah

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