Being silent means more than just holding your tongue. It means listening for the softest, most subtle sound of all – the sound of the soul.
Last April, I was forced to keep vocally silent for a week after minor surgery on my vocal chords. Among the benefits I derived from not talking aloud (not even a whisper), was my penmanship dramatically improved. The notes I wrote to my wife were at least legible. The experience of not speaking allowed me the opportunity to identify some other benefits of silence. Here are some of them.
Verbal silence invites you to become mentally silent, as well. Thinking has been defined as non-verbal language. One of the first exercises in learning how to meditate is to slow down (or completely stop) the mental activity called the ‘monkey mind’. Like a monkey in a cage, our thoughts usually jump from topic to topic in a rapid and endless motion. By not speaking, you can more easily learn to control the speed of your ‘monkey mind’ and that allows your mind to more easily to become silent…the necessary step for effective meditation.
When you do not talk, you become more sensitive to your external environment. After a week of silence, Tijn Touber exclaimed, “Never before had I felt such intense contact with everything around me – precisely because I hadn’t uttered a word. It was as if all my senses were wide open….”
Not only do you become more attuned to your external environment, you also begin to focus more clearly on your internal environment. When you can’t verbally respond to the world outside your skin, you become more aware of what is going on inside: every little discomfort, your breathing pattern, your pulse and heartbeat, your digestive sounds, etc.
Many times, using words can serve as a defensive ‘smoke screen’. We all know people who speak incessantly, never letting you ‘get a word in edgewise’. They are constantly talking to protect themselves from being vulnerable to any responses from others. Their need to talk keeps them from receiving any responses from others.
Other people very much appreciate it when the talker goes silent. It allows them the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas.
When you are silent, it invites others the opportunity to be silent, too. Spiritual orders know very well the benefit of ‘keeping the rule of silence’. When it is okay, even encouraged to be silent, that silence is never interpreted as negative or hostile (the ‘silent treatment). It makes silence a comfort and a respite from the noise of everyday living.
Internal silence enhances your ability to listen fully. When you don’t feel compelled to talk, you are able to be fully present, focused on what others may be saying. We all know the value of really listening without mentally composing and rehearsing a reply. Fully listening to another validates that what s/he is saying is important to you.
Italian psychiatrist, Piero Ferrucci, believes that silent contemplation is a human necessity. He compares it to the necessity of ‘going to the bathroom’. But we deny this basic, physiological need – as if the entire society were to forget to go to the bathroom. That’s serious!
Ecoactivist John Francis writes: “Silence is not just not talking. It’s a void. It’s a place where all things come from. All voices, all creation comes out of this silence.” Perhaps Tijn Touber is right. When you are both internally and externally silent, you are ready to listen to the sound of your soul.
Don’t wait until you have vocal-chord surgery. Regularly, take some time to stop talking aloud and internally. You may be surprised at what you can learn about the world around you…and your soul.