My friend and I went to one of Melbourne’s quiet cafés, well really it’s a café/bar, but more precious than the beverages, snacks and meals it serves, is the quietness. We even chose an especially quiet table within this red carpeted underground haunt. The whole place is sufficiently textured so that a conversation can be heard and taken in, and not transmitted at increasing volume to compete with cafeteria-like din, the kind of noise that seems commonplace at far too many establishments. As well as The Moat, for relative quietness, I also love Parsons in Wellington, which has a café on the mezzanine, above an eclectic book and record store, although sadly, while searching for a link, I find that it closed in February. I’m gathering quiet cafés in Melbourne and elsewhere, so if you know of any, let me know. We need to preserve them.
For solo café retreats, I now carry earplugs to cut out the conversations of other patrons in hard-surfaced places especially if I’m working, musing or pondering. These last two activities are often more important than the writing or crafting of something, and require greater space and silence, or at most, a merry background clamour, not a din. With my earplugs, I can also lessen or cut out the sound of overly loud or wildly inappropriate music—grunge at a breakfast café, or an unexpected burst of electronic music at a favourite French-styled café in the Dandenongs.
I usually prefer no music while I’m eating or conversing. A few years ago, I read an entertaining version of those Tuscan villa renovation books, where the American couple invited locals to dine with them. The Tuscans loudly expressed their dismay at the background music the Americans wanted to play during the meal. I’m with the Italians—I find it hard to think, converse or do anything if I’m truly listening to music. You can see how lost people are to their music when they are plugged into their MP3 players. I used to get lost in records as a child. Peter and the Wolf, and a 45 recording of verses from AA Milne entranced me. I sat in front of the record player as though it were a stage. Now I use a favourite album as a background to house cleaning, or working on administration. Hmm, maybe something to reconsider?
Quiet as a background for conversation—for deep nourishing conversation is essential. Not silence perhaps but a manageable hubbub. And quiet, or something akin to it, was the subject of part of our conversation at the Moat. I was lamenting my habit of saying ‘yes’ to things I truly did not want to do. My inner brownie is already sewing on her ‘doing a good deed’ badge whilst my true self is shaking her head in dismay. How can I notice this head-shaking a little earlier so I’m not having to excuse myself from things I don’t truly have the heart to support?
‘Ah, the sacred pause,’ said my friend. ‘You need to insert a sacred pause.’
She knew of it as a Buddhist practice, but if you explore in the links provided by your favourite search engine, you’ll find lots of references from a range of spiritual traditions. My friend put it into action a few minutes later when our waitress asked if she’d like another glass of rosé. ‘Can I get back to you about that?’ replied my friend.
I slipped the phrase in my back pocket, determined not to let it linger there like a misplaced $10 note. I didn’t want to let it go through the wash, or disappear completely. I want to use it.
My friend took the time to reflect on whether she really wanted another glass of wine. I was still sipping on my tea and we were both about to head home. No, she decided, she didn’t. The next time the waitress passed, she let her know. She took those moments to reflect, some time to ponder, to consult what I describe as the heart, as my location for deeper discernment, and she knew the right response. Now, this is a minor decision, but such habits can begin with little things.
So, look out, I’m on the hunt. As well as collecting quiet cafés, I’m searching for opportunities to say, ‘Hmm, can I have a think about that. I’ll get back to you.’ And then I’ll be taking a sacred pause, the quiet time to let myself know my truth.