From Anna Wood's essay, A More Intricate Cup of Tea, more thoughts on silence:
" The type of silence I’m talking about, worldly silence, isn’t about not hearing; on the contrary, it’s about listening.
Sound remains; what’s left behind is the voice. What’s left behind is verbalism, language. What’s left behind are the sweet and not-so-sweet nothings of cohabitation, the can-you-pass-the-salts, the pleases without thought to the other person’s pleasure, the sparring, the automatic and constant gauging of the limits of common ground. What’s left behind is the voice, and with that gone, the ego suddenly fades three shades.
Silence is radical. When sustained, it has an effect on your perception comparable to that of any number of chemicals with which you might seek change. Your vision transforms, to start with; you suddenly find yourself absorbing what’s on the periphery, massive amounts of once-invisible data assailing your pupils. When you’re not preparing your next remark, your hearing capacity expands, too: the changing rhythms of the wind; the muted thud of a teardrop hitting the wooden floor; your neighbor’s beating heart. And taste, and smell, they’re amplified and shifted, as well—a cup of tea sipped without the surrounding dialogue (Earl Grey. You don’t? How about English Breakfast, then? No, no sugar, thanks. Watching my weight. Do you have one of those carrying trays? Wow, that sure is hot.) is a more intricate cup of tea. Silence gives you the opportunity to know any number of an object’s facets that typically disappear behind the verbal screens we erect constantly, unthinkingly, between our selves and our environments. And surely the power of wordless touch is one each of us knows ...
Silence, by clarifying our senses, invites us to witness ourselves as we are. This is terrifying. Communal silence goes a step further, inviting us to witness ourselves as we are under the gaze of others. This is simply intolerable...."
I live and work in a noise filled environment. My job requires me to talk, and talk, and talk - to fill awkward pauses and gaps with language. I'm reminded to treat each customer as though he or she has a unique story to tell, and I am to draw their story out in the 5 or 10 or 20 minutes it takes for me to sell them a piece of jewelry. Am I to listen? Listening would be good, but no, I'm supposed to be simultaneously inviting customers to share their stories while I'm unwinding a litany of pro-company chatter which has its own acronym and upon which we are judged and graded each month by the MYSTERY SHOPPER. To say this is stressful is an understatement.
No, I'm not really listening to you. I'm going over the acronym in my mind and looking for opportunities in the gaps and pauses of our conversation to insert a piece of company propaganda. I'm trying to hit the 6 steps in less than 5 minutes so that you, yes you MYSTERY SHOPPER, will be able to check it off your list and grade me accordingly. I'm being pressured to score a 100%. I'm being 'incentive-ized' with promises of gifts cards totaling more than $100 worth of company merchandise to load you down with information - so much information that you will walk away wondering what you just purchased. You will stop on your way out of our store and check your market-pleasing color coordinated gift bag just to make sure your item is safely snuggled in its color coordinating pouch and gift box.
Am I sounding a bit cynical here ?? Truly, I'm not trying to be cynical. I just happen to like quiet. I like the awkward silences in conversation. If I don't rush in and try to fill them, sometimes something interesting or exciting occurs: a twist in the dialogue, a secret revealed, a heartache, a loss, or maybe, a lovely smile has a chance to simply unfold.
I long for silence in my surroundings, in part, because I have an endless chatter of thoughts streaming in my head. I do not know how meditation masters do it - watch the stream of words and let them flow by without getting wet or diving into them. How can I allow words to float by and not reel them in with baited hook and line?
And yes, the type of silent retreat Ms. Woods describes in her essay appeals to me and also repels me to some extent. How is it that our world today is so full of sound that we pay BIG BUCKS to go on silent retreats to free ourselves from language ??
Is it pretentious or is it sacred ??
"And so, to that end, I will take this opportunity to shut up."xxx