For my 30th birthday, I wanted to do something unique. Something adventurous, peaceful, and a tad bit uncomfortable.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I did not visit an Austrian sauna. (Although, this will come into play, in a surprising form, in this post.) Instead, my family sent me to Fügen, Austria, a quaint ski village in Tirol – alone – per my requested birthday gift. It was a strange request coming from me as I have a difficult time being alone. People give me energy and joy. Being alone has the opposite effect.
But I wanted to begin my 30th in a prayerful posture of silence, a skill and concept I know little about, and felt it was vital to use this trip to start understanding its sacred purpose. So, with my Bean Boots on and Whovian journal in hand, I spent two and a half days trudging through powdered sugar-snow, alone— and in silence.
For the first time in my blog’s history, I invite you into the pages of my journal. The following excerpts are from Day 1 in my Whovian journal which accompanied me nearly every moment of my trip. Because I tend to write, er, a lot, I’ve divided the blog posts into parts.
January 9th, 2019
I prepared a set of strict parameters for myself to have the best possible chance of genuinely engaging in silence, one of those parameters being: no phone. Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and email are all off limits. I may use my phone for podcasts, music, Google maps, train tickets, and communicating with and making awkward selfie-videos for my family. Other than that, it stays inside my bag. It’s more comfortable hours later, but it was much more of a challenge to keep off of it during Vienna’s morning rush hour. Everyone around me, those standing and sitting, were nose-deep in their screens — everyone except the older woman across from me. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow we went from me telling her where I bought my earphones to her asking me how I got my stomach to be “small” after pregnancy. I didn’t have a great answer which made me feel awkward. Luckily, she got off soon after, and I was able to put on a podcast.
I’m completely by myself in my section of the train, listening to The Road Back to You for the first time, and watching the world outside rapidly turn whiter and whiter.
I’ve arrived in Fügen, and I can honestly declare: I’m in love. Never have I been in an atmosphere such as this. It is, in the purest, most fairytale-like sense, a winter wonderland. I was so excited to be here, I spent all of two minutes in my room, long enough to admire its single bed and terrace that faces a chicken coup and several towering pines. My plan upon arrival was to head into the heart of the village to find a traditional Austrian cafe for lunch and coffee. Unsurprisingly, I got distracted due to the discovery of a winding trail that seemed to lead into the forest. I couldn’t let it go unexplored.
The snow, mostly untouched, reached my waist whenever I veered off the path. I could tell several people had walked the path before me, but even still, it was a challenge to make sure I’d planted each foot in front of the other before each step. I fell more than once, but to my relief, only the birds saw my body confess to the world its unfamiliarity with deep snow. I thought I would hike about halfway, but before I knew it, I had gotten sidetracked by the gentle sound of running water. Then by a hidden trail. Then a buried chapel. By the time I turned around, the village was nearly out of sight, and I was alone. It felt like the right time to “engage silence,” so there I stood, engaging. Sort of. Because how does one engage silence, correctly? To engage in something usually has an obvious, at times tangible, payback. If I engage in conversation, the result is listening and speaking when necessary. But if I engage in silence, what does silence give me?
As I write down this new memory, I’m laughingly disappointed in my choice of village restaurants. One of my habits I’m hoping to work on while I’m away is my inability to trust my judgment, and I pulled a typical Holly move because I didn’t trust my instinct to walk into the first cafe I saw. I thought if I went in, I might miss out on something better. So I walked on in search of a place that fit the “something better” description. Then some old guys, from inside a haze of cigarette smoke, told me to go to a well-known place called Cozys. That’s how I thought it was spelled, anyway. Cozys – sounds cute. Well, now I know: trust my judgment over the judgment coming from within an abundance of secondhand smoke. Those men meant well. They knew I was hungry and not from around here. But Cozy’s is actually Kosis Fun Food Bar, and I am sure I now have lung cancer. At least my ham and cheese toast was under 5 euro.
And with that, I am going to the cafe I should’ve walked into in the first place.
Trust yourself sometimes, Holly. Trust yourself.
The uneasiness of having no around is attempting to creep in. I’ve stopped moving for the day and am in my room at the guest house. The cafe was lovely, and afterward, I considered further exploration, this time of the hotel at the top of the hill, but I realized I’ve been on the go all day, and if I’m to experience silence and stillness, perhaps it would be helpful actually to be still. I brought very little on this trip — only the necessities: two changes of clothes, my toothbrush, and hairbrush, my anxiety meds. Everything else is related to creative and intellectual learning: three of my inkdoris, a sketch pad, my entire colored pencil collection, micron pens, zentangling workbooks, books I need to finish, my Nikon.
As I look at my collection of creative activities, I’m filled with excitement and apprehension. I don’t know where the anxiety comes from. Maybe an uncertainty of what to do first, or a fear of being disappointed that I colored instead of journaled, or sketched instead of finished a book. Perhaps this is where silence plays such an important role. Only now, at this moment, on this bed in this little room, is it clear to me how disconnected I am from myself. How fearful I am of my own decisions. All the way down to which colored pencil to use or which book to pick up. I see it so distinctly, now. It’s everything. It’s everywhere. It’s exhausting.
How have I lived in Austria for nearly 7 seven years and never tried Tafelspitz? This stuff is yes, please.
Eating dinner alone is the most awkward of the three daily meals. I have my own assigned table since I’m eating in the hotel restaurant. There’s a lit tea candle between me and an empty chair. It’s hard to not be on my phone. I feel vulnerable without it. At whom do I look? What do I do with my hands when I’m not using utensils?
Unintentionally befriended the hotel owner a few minutes ago. She’s the sweetest. She spotted me and cupped my face with her hands while she asked if I’d arrived today and came alone. Usually, I’d be pretty put out with another adult for holding my face the same way I do my daughter’s, but she gets a pass. She’s my new Austria grandma. She gave me a big squeeze and told me she’d be back. Why — I didn’t know. Then, sure enough, she returned with chocolate in one hand and a gorgeous glass bottle of rosewater bubble bath in the other. She put them both in front me with a convincing, “A mother needs her rest!” So, yeah. I love her and I hope she’s cool with me sending in grandma adoption papers.
I’ve finished my dinner and the restaurant is beginning to fill up with families and groups who’ve recently returned from a day of skiing. I’m tempted to stick around to people-watch, but I’ll take this sudden surge in number as an indicator to go back to my quiet little room. I’ve got my new bubble bath to use tonight, and I bought a bag of Skittles earlier because I like to live on the wild side. Sketching also sounds like a good idea, though I’m not sure why. I have this image in my head I feel like I’m supposed to draw, but I don’t know where it came from. The worst thing about the picture is it calls for the use of the Point of Perspective technique, and I haven’t done that in years. I can still see the spot in my fifth-grade art classroom where I consciously decided to give up on figuring out that technique. I was ten. Did I start taking off from “scary” things that early?
Much to think about this evening, more than expected.
*Not a paid post. Inkdoris by Grace and Salt Ink.