I wonder. Do we really need to use so many words to express ourselves or interpret our world? The question comes to mind as I sit comfortably in a corner chair at the neighborhood coffee shop. My otherwise peaceful time away from the office is thwarted by my inability to tune out the roar of mindless chatter; people exchanging one set of words for another and most not hearing a word the other is saying.
As I glance up from the screen of my new Mac Book, which is not quite as intuitive as the ads proclaim, it appears as if people are talking, but no one is really listening. They all appear to be on a sort of anticipatory pause waiting for a break in the words so they might cram their words into the open space. It’s more like an intricately timed overlapping of words between sips of overpriced hot water dripped over coffee beans. From the chair I claim as temporarily mine, it seems as if words are what link us together, connect us, keep us tethered together in some superficial illusion of mutual understanding.
I suppose it is true, words are inescapable in this world where if it is not verbalized, texted, or tweeted it probably does not exist. I take that back. I popped into a drop-in massage studio last week and the Thai-looking petite woman who earned $45 an hour for working the knots out of my shoulders did not initiate the lobbying of comments or questions. Maybe she understood any conversation would have been forgotten as soon as the next client walked through the door. Or, maybe she didn’t speak English. Whatever the reason, it was a sweet reprieve, not to hear words for a full 50 minutes. Attempting to maximize the experience, I did my best to banish words from my thoughts during that blissful, wordless moment in time. It was truly a glorious escape from the almighty word.
I have been giving serious consideration to living a year of my life in silence. You read that right. Not speaking for an entire year. Saying nothing for a full 365 days. As I seek deeper levels of a spiritual existence while doing my time on our lovely little planet Earth, it seems as if words frequently obstruct the spiritual journey, or, at the very least, slow down its progress. Absence of words, then, may provide me with a rare opportunity to truly listen to the world around me. It might help me figure out a few lingering issues about life’s purpose and how best to serve others during my tenure here.
Can you imagine how you might perceive your world if you could truly observe all of its nuances while relieved of the obligation of adding your own commentary? I wonder if those things that consume your thoughts would remain important if you did not empower them with a few paragraphs of opinion.
Listening is most certainly underrated. Most individuals applaud the skilled wordsmith and orator. We elect officials by their choice of words, not by a record of their deeds. We marry and divorce due to words, not on the development of relationships that withstand harsh words. We buy in to words telling us what we need to own, plunging our families and our entire nation into debt from which we must struggle to recover.
We are missing the fact that the true value of the life experience is found in carefully listening, and paying attention to the words chosen by others. Listening permits us to learn, to assess and to experience the words of others. When we speak, we tell the world a great deal about us, like turning over our hand in a critical poker game. With our word choice, we reveal our limitations, our weaknesses, our preferences, our educational level as well as our interests and desires. When we listen, however, we can observe and learn those things in others. The person who speaks is exposed, in a way. And their intentions will eventually surface if we let them chatter long enough. Interestingly enough, the person who remains silent is in the optimal place of learning, able to take in all the information and eventually make the most powerful decision.
I remember the first time I instructed an entire module of female inmates held in the Los Angeles County Jail that I wanted them to be completely silent, not to say a word, not utter a peep for 24 hours. I did this because there was a heightened amount of gossip ripping and the fabric of the therapeutic work I was doing with the women. Rather than attempt to hold back the tidal wave of cross talk, I silenced them. That night, as I closed the day with the closing of my eyes, I wondered how my students were doing, wordless for 24 hours, some wordless for the first time in their lives.
The following morning when I entered the silent module I received the requisite reports of minor infractions of “Coach Taylor’s Law,” but I was more surprised by what was shared after all the violations were reported. A majority of the women were grateful, grateful they were relieved of the obligation of communication. They told me they loved the silence, welcomed the disconnection for a period. It gave them time to reflect on their life choices, to think, to meditate, and to pray.
As for my own life, I have maintained silence for a full 72 hour period when completing my ordination as an Interfaith Minister. I chose 72 hours of silence simply because I did not want to engage in superfluous conversations. I did not want the distraction of words that may have gotten in the way of my ability to focus on my ordination and my commitment to helping people find internal freedom, regardless of where they awake each morning.
Silence is the subtle, and rarely used key to internal freedom. Silence empowers us to turn within for the answers to life’s questions, which are where powerful and life-changing answers reside.
What will I find if I choose a full year of wordless observation of life and the living? What might happen within my heart and soul if I am not required to verbalize my experience? Will my life experience be diminished or enhanced if I am unable to label them with a combination of A-Z letters? What will happen to my feelings and my human emotions? Emotions often inspire, or require, a litany of words to maintain their strength. Will human emotion diminish in the absence of the word? Will I be able to hold on to anger if I am not permitted to verbalize my frustration to others? Or will I just LET GO of those experiences that are exacerbated through giving them value through words?
A blind man learns to listen with heightened acuity in the absence of his sight. A deaf woman learns to watch with keen attention in the absence of hearing. I wonder. How will food taste if meals are held in silence rather than hastily inhaled during a chat-fest social occasion? At the close of the 365th day in the absence of words, will there be a heightened reverence for the words I will first utter?
I will likely choose to live a full year in silence. Most likely, it will not be this coming year as I am releasing another GOGI book called “How To GOGI” and this book needs my strong voice so it will find it’s way into the hearts and minds of men, women, and children who wish to learn the simple tools to aid them in their efforts to make positive decisions in their lives.
I wonder if anyone in Starbucks has observed my silence. Or am I the invisible the lady in the corner occasionally looking up at the duos and trios huddled over tiny tables? It seems to me the consumers filling the seats in the coffee shop struggle for connection, struggle to be heard, to be understood, loved and appreciated. Could they comprehend the concept that their words are actually the very reason their goal remains out of reach? What might happen if they all chose to be silent, a giant flash mob of silence across our country for a few minutes. Would the window of opportunity remain open enough for them to actually feel connected in a more powerful, wordless way?
I am coming to appreciate the underutilized power found in empty space; the void. The void is found in the absence of the spoken word. It seems as if within the emptiness, the void, in the absence of words, there is ample space for creation to occur. It is within the void of word that we can engage in the creation of a meaningful connection, of lasting change, of the underutilized potential of the human mind.
Oftentimes we rush to fill the void with words. That is why I wonder what may happen if filling the void with words is not an option for a full year. I am likely to choose a year of silence in the near future. Until then, I will begin to practice. Maybe it is a good time to speak a little less, maybe choose my words more carefully. Maybe it is a good time for our entire nation to speak a little less and listen a little more.
WHAT IF we slowed down the pace of our commentary? WHAT IF we didn’t rush to fill the silence with hastily chosen words? WHAT IF we listened for a deeper communication? Maybe, just maybe, it is within the void, in the absence of words, we find the kind of life that defies all verbal explanation. Could it be that silence says it all?