Silence is not an area in which I excel. It’s hard to avoid speaking when attending a weekend poetry retreat, attempting to sell our home and launching an online literary journal. I don’t know that there’s ever an ideal time for silence in a world that seems to constantly expect us to speak, but I do know that I probably chose the worst possible time for this undertaking.
I have an irresistible desire to explore everything my voice is capable of.
When I encounter a situation in which I need to communicate with words, I’ve been creating spaces for silence in other ways: sundown-to-sunrise silence, sunrise-to-sundown silence, silence outside my home, silence inside my home, one hour of non-silence in the evening, and so on.
I’ve read that even many who take monastic vows of silence are permitted to speak during specific activities. I hope my own permitted speech will eventually function in this same manner — in service to my silence as opposed to working against my silence. I hope I can make something of these partial silences, to learn from them, while allowing some language to move through my body. Still, the days in which I’ve been completely silent have been the most rewarding. The silence itself is a reward, if not the reward.
It’s interesting to deliberately commit to silence, even if I am not able to consistently maintain complete silence. It’s not what I thought it would be, which is to say it’s not having the effects I imagined it would have. For instance, I thought something different would happen when I moved between silence and non-silence. I thought that words would become more precious, that my speech would become more meaningful and deliberate, that I would choose my words more wisely and only say what needed to be said in service to the bigger callings in my life as opposed to the little murmurs that invite my attention daily.
That’s not how things have worked out thus far. I’ve spent my non-silent time not only discussing what needs to be discussed, but also using my voice in every way possible, from whispering to yelling joyfully, from humming softly to belting out lyrics — even those I don’t know. Apparently, I have an irresistible desire to explore everything my voice is capable of, as well as to make up for all I did not whisper, yell, hum or sing during my hours of silence.
There’s also been pressure to speak when I am inside silence, a pressure that can feel overwhelming — as if the whole world will fall apart if I can’t just say the one thing I really really really want to say right when I want to say it.
I have a feeling that these impulses and desires will quiet down the longer my commitment to silence continues. But maybe this is just how it is and how it is going to be. Maybe my silence won’t fundamentally change me or the world, or move mountains (or even hills), or whatever I consciously or subconsciously expect it to do. As I said above, maybe the silence itself is the reward — the silence of the moment and the moment of silence all that matter.