It's 20th November, fast approaching 7pm - the start time for Mission Silence, the world's first sponsored silence event. I am on the phone to my best friend who asks if I've remembered to change my answer machine message but I'd completely forgotten. I had thought of everything for this challenge and now there's just three minutes to go and I had not done something very crucial. I frantically record a message stating that I will not be able to answer phone calls for 72 hours as I am taking a vow of silence to fundraise for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) charity, Shift.ms, and I leave the details of my Just Giving page, inviting any callers to donate. The message fails to record and there is now only one minute to go.....Oh the pressure! I do succeed just as 59 turns to 00. These are the last words I say for three days.
I have done this before for 48 hours to raise money for the same cause, as my dad unfortunately has MS, but this year I am challenging myself to an extra day of silence. I am also not alone but I have teamed up with Shift.ms and we have recruited a silent army across the world with the aim of making the world's loudest silence. The premise of Mission Silence is not to sit at home and isolate in our silence but to go out and about as usual and let the world know what we are doing for MS, a devastating disease with no cure.
The first evening I need to keep reminding myself that I am not to answer the phone when it rings, pass any comments when watching TV, or command my dog, Roxy, to stop barking, come inside, or offer her treats. After a few hours Roxy is just staring at me with her big black eyes, wondering where all the love has gone.
@Paul Harmer Photography
Silent Day One:
I arrive at my yoga class and show the receptionist a Mission Silence card
but she's not quite sure what it means and starts to direct questions at me. I nod, shake my head, and find myself making strange gestures with my hands that in reality translate into gibberish. She signs me in and I head to the class, leaving the receptionist perplexed. Now you may think that taking a yoga class in silence is not a challenge as yoga is meant to be a silent activity but this is Jivamukti yoga which involves chanting, and how I love a good chant. So, I find myself literally biting my tongue to stop any "Oms" escaping.
Yoga instructor, and friend, Durga Devi, informs the class that I am doing a three day sponsored silence for charity and starts to talk about the significance of practicing silence in the yoga world, telling us that the act is called Mauna. She refers to an Indian spiritual leader, Swami Nirmalananda, who didn't speak for eleven years. Suddenly three days doesn't seem so long!
Later, I face the ultimate challenge - Shabbat dinner with my family in silence. As we sit around the table, they all try to determine whether I would prefer them to talk to me or not. As my mum directs questions at me, I shrug with amusement to say, "how on earth am I meant to answer that?" They resolve that it's best not to keep directing words and questions at me. I am relieved because the temptation to answer is becoming overwhelming and exhausting. Not speaking, I do start to experience a greater appreciation for the food on my plate and as I listen to all the words darting across the table, I like to think I am perfecting the art of truly listening. There is a moment where I am desperate to interject - when they are trying to remember the name of a film and as it comes to me, I'm exclaiming loudly in my head, "I know, I know, I know.....!"
Silent Day Two:
Brunch with the three generations of men in my family (my Granddad, dad and brother) is especially amusing. My Grandad, aged 87, is getting rather forgetful and has to keep being reminded that I cannot speak. He cannot quite get his head around it and repeatedly keeps asking why I'm not talking!
Arriving at tennis, coach, Steve, who's always on the next court greets us as usual and my opponent, and good friend, Emma Simons, fills him in on my silent mission for MS. He tells us that his brother has the disease and gives me some cash for the cause. I'm sorry for his brother and touched by his support. Steve previously remarked that he loves the way my opponent and I greet each other warmly with a hug, have a chat and then as we proceed to play, we display no mercy, fiercely battling for every point, engaging in the occasional squabble. This time there will be no dispute from me and as Steve says, Emma is free to call the shot as she pleases and will be met with no response. The challenge is on! My willpower is tested when I can't call "out" or curse as I lose points.
Instead I have an ongoing running commentary shooting through my mind. Our game is usually relatively equal and I like to think I am not a sore loser if I know I have played to the best of my ability, but as I am thrashed, I start to wonder if incessant talking is the key to my success on the court. Am I nothing without words, or was my opponent just on fire today?
Silent Day Three:
I rise to make my morning coffee but realise I have run out of milk and by now I am starting to dread these encounters with the outside world but I drag myself to the corner shop. As I hand my milk to the woman, I first try smiling and hope she doesn't notice that I am oddly mute upon this morning. I have forgotten my Mission Silence card and don't have my phone on me to type a message on. When she asks, "how are you this morning?" I nod and smile simply but then can't stand the thought that I am being perceived to be rude, so I grab her pen and write on my hand why I cannot engage in chat. She smiles encouragingly and donates some cash from her till. I am humbled by her kindness.
Driving to the cinema, as Queen's, "I Want to Break Free" blasts out the radio, the ultimate sing along song, I realise I am being tested. A few people had commented, "who will know if you do speak anyway?" and the simple answer is that I would know and the three day vow of silence meant not saying a single word to anyone or myself.
Now you would think the cinema would be a safe place to hide away in silence for a few hours, but those who have experienced watching a film with me know I like to pass comments, ask the odd question and generally have a bit of chat in hushed whispers.
Keeping quiet in this two hour and forty minute film (Mr Turner) was particularly challenging - although beautifully shot and with Oscar worthy performances, I think watching Turner's paint dry would have been more entertaining!
I leave the cinema relieved that I have just fifteen minutes to go - that's it, I've accomplished my mission, I think - no more challenges to face. However on the way back to my car, I drop my parking ticket in a dark puddle - it's impossible to to fish it out. I show the parking attendant my Mission Silence card and type a message on my phone to explain that I cannot talk but
he thinks I am making this up and that I am cheekily trying to get out of the fine. He asks if I am not talking for fun! I try and appeal to him again and ask him to life the barrier. He says he cannot do that until I pay £30 for losing the ticket.
He refuses to look at any more of my typed messages. I refuse to be broken - I will maintain my silence until the bitter end! I eventually grab his attention and get him to acknowledge my Just Giving page. His eyes light up with understanding, he smiles and lets me go....PHEW!
7.01pm (72 hours later): My brother says, "go on, you can speak now," but I produce no words for at least another minute and then I say, "I don't know what to say!" I had wanted my first words to be something wonderfully profound but this was all I could deliver. I think my head had finally gone silent. I call my Dad and fill him in on my silent journey. I look on Twitter for fellow Mission Silence participants and see many Tweets of joy that they too had triumphed and had the gift of speech once more.
Mission Silence 2014 complete - are you brave enough to join in next year?
To make a donation to Shift.ms, please click on this link -
any amount is greatly appreciated