How many of us are comfortable with silence? The silence from a partner, the waiting period before a response, the quiet of solitude?

Do you wait anxiously by the phone, hoping to hear from a loved one, a job interview, or upon meeting a new client? Are we honestly okay with the “not hearing back” without personalizing it? “He didn’t call back after 3 days” so I must be undesirable; “I didn’t get the job because I’m unqualified” and so goes the irrational thoughts we tell ourselves. Often we make it about ‘us’, when in reality it’s about the other, who makes a choice according to his or her thoughts, beliefs and desires.

One of the counseling skills I learned at my graduate school USM was practicing silence. Role playing, I had to sit still for 15 minutes with a client and say absolutely nothing. I could smile and communicate with my body, but not words. We practiced this repeatedly, and the reactions, including mine, were quite diverse. For some, the discomfort in the role of client was too unbearable, so they spent the time incessantly talking to fill up the space. Others, whom I suspect were more at ease with quiet, sat in silence for the duration of the exercise. For the majority of us, it was strange not to have anyone verbally validate our feelings.

What I remember most clearly was my own reaction. Initially, I was extremely fidgety, unable to sit still. Interestingly enough, this had also been my behavioral pattern, which had manifested in the form of always being ‘crazy busy’, multi-tasking and over-committing.  This realization was quite powerful, for I learned that my inability to be still for more than a few minutes was less about physical energy, and more concerning my incapacity to be with silence.

What is it about silence that’s terrifying for most of us? What is our cultural need to fill every moment of our days, including those of our kids? In the busyness of our lives, when do we enjoy the space between the moments? When do we fully breathe?
Perhaps silence brings awareness of what we intuitively know within our hearts, but choose not to believe with our minds. By quieting the mind and body, our innermost desires speak the truth that’s been dismissed. Making space for solitude and quiet allow for freedom from expectations where our hearts can soar.

The ‘to do list’ will wait. Chores can be done later. Clients can wait an hour before a response to their email. If we develop the capacity to just be, in silence, we may find the music that keeps us safe from pain and discomfort. In these notes, we may discover our truths.

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2 Responses to “The Music of Silence”

  1. Michael Grubb says:

    Really good questions. Thanks for sharing your exercise from USM. That's lovely. Being physically and energetically present with someone while not speaking is a powerful experience, for both people, whether the other person is speaking or not. It is interesting to me that the silence is far from blank or empty. Not talking leaves room for all the other myriad forms of expression and connection to happen. How rich!

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