But there were short glimpses of gentle nothingness, I heard myself saying. That is enough, she replied. That is enough.

I’d been so edgy about it. It’s funny, in my weekly email from the Blurt Foundation they wrote about the fear of doing nothing. All those lists, running to catch up with myself. If only I could get that sorted out, that ticked off the list, that cleaned, that thrown away I can be at peace, I can be still. All the while knowing that once one list gets ticked off another is started.

There is nothing to do. Six hours of nothing to do but follow the practice. Six hours of watching my breath. Six hours of feeling the ground. Six hours of not speaking. More, for I hadn’t spoken all morning. What a space it left. What will come in? I thought. My back was rigid all through it. Honour it, she said, it is holding you in place. Yes. My carapace, my armour, my corset. Holding me. Keeping me upright. Protecting me. From what?

I was the first there. I sat cross-legged watching everyone arrive. The smell of sage took some adjusting too. A dry, slightly sour smell of hay, dried mown grass and kitchen herb cupboards. I liked it after a while. A cleansing. I watched everyone arrive. Caught the smell of the rain every time someone opened the door. The imposed silence made us awkward. Do we nod, avert our eyes or smile? I went with the smiling option but not everyone responded. If people don’t want to make eye contact, honour that, she said. My sense of smell was heightened. I caught whiffs of perfumes, deodorants and when the last woman came in, a stink of TCP. Nine of us electing to be part of that silent day.

I was surprised by my inner resistance. It continued throughout the day. The rigidity of my back being its most resonant manifestation. Judgement was another. Judgement of myself and my fellow participants. A nit-picking kind of voice commenting on clothes, bodies, mannerisms – that droned on and on. Are they all doing it? Or am I the only non-gracious being here? By not speaking, by not sharing intimacy I couldn’t puncture it, find my way in. To love without knowledge. To love absolutely without being pleased aesthetically. That is the key. I watched them as they walked ahead of me, or as they lay doing yoga. All with different bodies, different skins, sexes, inclinations, desires, hopes, fears and prejudices. We’re all sharing the same air, she intoned. Yes. That is true. Is that not reason enough for intimacy, for knowing? To love without judgement. It’s a kind of separation process, this judging. Why? Why do I want to separate myself? From what?

Sometimes I was bored and my eyes would stray to the clock. I want to go home. I want to be in my routine, following the day to the letter in its carved out blocks of time. Held in place by my structured life. But then sometimes, just sometimes, I lost myself and became nothing. What is that? It is beyond my description. A no-thing. Beyond ego. We did nothing. And I was exhausted.

The day was wet then drizzly. I watched as she walked barefoot on the grass and knew the sensation, felt it under my feet too. We were encouraged to whisper before we spoke. And she came over to me, the lovely smiling girl who has been so ill. We sat not facing each other. Don’t ask your partner any questions, just listen and then talk, she intoned. I the smiling woman’s voice and the way she moves her head when she talks. You are lovely, I said to her afterwards and I meant it.

Only three from my course came. I was sorry for that. They weren’t ready, she said. I thought of them, as I knew they would be thinking of us. It has got under my skin. That nothingness is so frightening but so tantalizing. There is nothing to do. Think of that. Nothing to do. And the world so busy.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.