Words and Silence

This may sound strange since I’m a writer, but sometimes I feel that words and language can weigh us down and overcomplicate our lives. At least as they are traditionally used: to argue and debate, to delineate and deduce, to explain and edify, to compile histories and construct theories. Politics, science, philosophy, religion. Even spirituality can veer off into wordiness. Some books and teachings engage the mind more than the soul. The deepest, most spiritual response to life is often just sitting or standing silently, in reverence. To look up at the trees and see God. To listen to birdsong and hear Spirit’s voice. No words required.

Of course, not all words run to excess or cause mental fatigue. Some poetry and prose can arise from a quiet space of being in the world. When I read Mary Oliver, Ann Patchett, or Mark Nepo, I feel a connection to the core of all life, Nature, and humanity, clearly expressed from the heart. Haiku is the simplest form of poetry. It pares language down to the basics and in doing so allows the reader infinite space to receive. Such writing engenders inner peace instead of a distracted, busy mind.

In one of Ann Patchett’s novels, two men from different countries who don’t speak each other’s language play chess for hours in silence. The tension and danger that surrounds them is broken by the peace that arises from their shared silence. I’ve seen chess players in a crowded city square also play in silence, those gathered around them silently watching. A small circle of stillness forms in an otherwise noisy area. How many other activities could we do quietly, creating peace in the world around us? Walking or birdwatching, for example. What about preparing meals or listening to music? We could in theory extend the list to everything. How would the world shift, without one word spoken?

Perhaps this is not completely realistic, but yet not wholly impossible, on a small scale, in our individual lives. If we hold stillness within us, outer noise falls away. Small talk evaporates. Busyness slows down. Our minds slow down. It suddenly doesn’t seem that necessary to narrate our every move or comment on everything (aloud or via texting, social media, etc.). In the space that opens up, we can rest in our own inner presence, without verbal interference.

Words can be a key part of our daily lives, and language a bridge to communicate with others. It is enjoyable and comforting to share our thoughts and feelings, bringing us closer together. But talking is not always necessary, and if we allow silence to expand within us and outside of us, what we do say becomes poetry or music arising from our souls. Gently touching the hearts of those around us and then dissolving into stillness again. Wouldn’t you love to live in a world like that? Take a deep breath, and don’t say a word. There you are.

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