Sitting in Silence
A conversation among teens in the Powell House Youth Program
by Rebecca Anacheka-Nasemann and Chris DeRoller
Recently I attended a Powell House high school youth retreat facilitated by Lily Bergstein and Chris DeRoller. As part of the work we were doing around individual and group evolution, we were asked to come up with a list of youth program components that could be uncomfortable in important ways. The list we generated included: Couch piles, 3-way massage, sitting in silence, news of me, Wink ‘em, and small group discussions.
A group of us self-selected to talk about “Sitting in Silence.” We discussed how we didn’t initially know what to make of silence, and it seemed strange and uncomfortable, but that it became an experience we all found meditative, relaxing, healing, and deeply important to us. We talked about how love and other emotions can transcend conversation, and really envelope a group of people when they are sitting in silence. The pressure to say something or not say something is relieved. You can just be. The experience is different for each person but important to have. We also talked a bit about adapting silence to a group’s energy level, including ways to make it movement-oriented, particularly for younger groups and maybe occasionally for older groups.
At the same time some of us felt that you can’t structure silence. You can only structure the space that silence occurs in. So if it’s about connecting with other people, then you want a space that is comfortable and cozy and close together where you can be as a group in the silence; and if it’s about working on yourself, then you want a space that works for that.
The silence shapes us, but we also shape it.
Chris’s comments: I expected that 3-way massage would be on that list and perhaps small group discussions and cabaret but this one surprised me most, both in it’s naming and in the conversation around it. I was struck by the participants’ recognition that the silence could be communal or individual. That they weren’t speaking of silence as a goal but as a means. And when they spoke of the communal aspect, while they didn’t use God language, they were sharing experiences of a covered meeting—a sense of connection and wholeness and being where they needed to be.
Rebecca Anacheka-Nasemann is a junior in high school and has attended over 35 Powell House Youth Retreats since 2011. She co-authored this piece with Chris DeRoller.