Silence is a powerful force. It changes your brain.
The retreat had been, by no means, a meditation retreat (we'd only done that twice for less than an hour each time) and we'd sat through a couple of lectures a day but, aside from two group meetings, none of us were supposed to talk. Ever. Not in our rooms, certainly not at meals, not even on bathroom breaks or while we worked together in the afternoons on our assigned chores. (Our group mopped marble, vacuumed the long red indoor/outdoor carpet; cleaned the office windows, sills and ledges.)
So, when our gray-suited line opened the dining room door to leave the silent hall and found ourselves in a parted sea of regular folks - dads in plaid shirts, moms holding their small children back, a cacophonous school group eager to get in to eat, their voices caroming from marble floor to cement ceiling and back, all curious to get a gander at us as we streamed by without looking at them -- the sound, the energy was overwhelming.
Just months before I'd been in one of those school groups with Matt's class. It's how I knew about Hsi Lai. I'd been one of those unconsciously noisy people, unaware how I was affecting others. None of them were especially noisy by American standards, by my normal standards, yet there I was, in effect, unable to stand my own noise.