An Observation of Silence

I finally took my first vacation, though I did not go too far. I merely crossed a border to Benin, marking my second visit to the country. My first trip was for a work-related cashew conference but now I was back for pleasure (or torture, depending on who you ask). This time I came for a ten day silent meditation course.

Coming back felt like visiting an old friend… or rather an acquaintance. I recognized places on the road but lacked any context or meaning to associate them with. By the end of my trip this relationship with Benin remained virtually the same. I parted with no real attachment or sadness to be leaving the country.

What I left with was something more valuable. As to be expected, the zero communication rule of the course (no talking, no gestures, no reading, no writing, and no eye contact with others) forced me to do a lot inner study and self-reflection. However, I learned quite a bit outside the meditation hall too. One of the most memorable moments I had during the course happened when I just stopped to observe the world around me.


Meditation hall for the course
One item on the long list of prohibitions during the course was exercise. 

Fortunately, walking was an exception to this rule, so I took advantage of it between most meditation times. Aside from being my only exercise source, I walked to stretch my legs from all the sitting. 

I routinely took strolls up and down the designated paths and on the second day of the course I spotted something odd—a baby snake lying 0n the path.

I assumed it was dead and felt comfortable approaching it. Then, as I came closer I noticed the skin on the end of its tail was peeling. This made me think the snake could be alive, just shedding. Seeking not to interfere with nature, I continued my stroll.

On my way back I was surprised to find the snake still there. I stopped again to inspect it, this time realizing it could be a black mamba—one of the quickest, longest and deadliest snakes in the world. Why was it still lying there?

Then it made its first move. The thin snake jerked its metallic-grey body from the tail upward. It jerked a second time and even harder on the third. Then its predicament became clear—it was stuck.

The part of its tail I thought had been shedding seemed to be the source. I moved closer and saw the snake was recently hatched. Sadly, it could not fit its entire body out of the hole where its egg was laid. It was trying to free itself with every jerk.

I began searching for a solution or something I could do to help. I could try to break the ground around the snake to widen the hole. But what if I did help it escape and the first thing it did was to attack me? Or what if there were more eggs and thus more baby mambas in the hole?

As I contemplated what might be best solution, the snake methodically continued lapses of jerk-jerk-jerk-rest. We both knew time was ticking but I did not know what to do.

The rescue mission
Eventually a few black ants caught my eye. They were shuffling around the hole the snake was stuck in. I watched as the ants lifted rocks—double their size or more—from around the snakes’ tail. In between rock lifts, they pushed and pulled at the snakes’ tail, trying to get it out of the hole. I must have missed them because of their size before; just a few millimeters larger and I would have seen all their brisk movements before noticing the snake.

But why were they helping a black mamba? Maybe it was blocking an important entrance/exit to their home or maybe they just wanted to help a fellow member of the animal kingdom in need. Either way, I was impressed.

Unfortunately, this is where the story ends. I could only stay and watch a few minutes longer before the next meditation session. I was not free again until after dark and I did not muster up the courage to check on the snake during a pitch-black African night.

I waited until the next morning but by then the snake was gone. I can only imagine how the story ended. I replayed it over and over during the course and until now, a few weeks later. One of the most dangerous snakes on the planet was being helped by four tiny ants.

Such an odd situation seemed compounded by silence. Not to mention, I had to keep it to myself for seven more days and did not retell it with any justice the one time I tried. Even now, I struggle to describe my appreciation to have witnessed this otherwise insignificant occurrence of nature.

Thank you for letting me share the story with you.


  1. Do you feel that you've gained any insight on your life by participating in the meditation?
    10 days is a lot of thinking.haha
    Also, how's your french coming along?

  2. The experience was a great opportunity to do a lot of self-reflection and focus on self-awareness.

    Ten days is quite a lot of thinking, so I was able to elaborate some I ideas just because I could focus on them. I also feel more conscious of everything I do and how I react to things.

    My French is conversational, but still has work to do. The slow pace and simplified vocabulary of the Togolese has helped a lot though.