I’ve been thinking a lot lately about silence, mostly because my drunken-monkey-mind has been in overdrive, to the point where, from the early morning’s first moment of semi-consciousness to bedtime’s last, desperate clinging thoughts of day, my mind has just been going amillionfuckingmilesanhournofasterthanthatfaster! And it’s not just this overflow of the mind that enslaves me; too often it spills from my head to my mouth and I hear myself talking and yoking myself with the legacy of my words (‘We are masters of the unsaid word,’ posited Winston Churchill, ‘but slaves of those we let slip out.’).
As email has become my communication method of preference and I’ve been sucked into the dualistic black hole of Facebook (along with everyone else in the Western world – with a couple of backwater Bolinas holdouts, you know who you are), where communication occurs at lightning speed and unresponsiveness is regarded as an affront, I find the pace of the dialogue in my head has ratcheted up to an almost unbearable speed, one where discerning between thoughtful analysis and mere chatter has become increasingly difficult. I also work for an extrovert in a department full of sociable, extroverted, hyper-opinionated females, and the one time I tried to remain quiet during a management meeting and said ‘I’m just listening,’ I got the suspicious side-eye. Even just a couple of weeks ago I told a colleague, ‘I don’t have an opinion,’ and she laughed right in my face and said, ‘Yes, you do.’ She knows me too well.
I feel required to have an opinion and therefore I spend a great deal of time formulating one – but, and here’s the rub – about every. fucking. thing. Syria? Yep, got one (no war). Miley Cyrus (euw, that ass), check. Gun control. Twerking. The demands of the emerging workforce. Refined sugar. Internet dating. How often to change out the dish sponge. The existential angst of the undead. The willful, elective spinsterhood of Elizabeth I. Our receptionist’s abuse of overtime. What do I think about this? Or this? Or this? ‘That’s why you get migraines,’ my best friend chimed in recently, ignoring decades of neurological research and organic rationale, but he may have a point anyway (am I literally thinking myself sick?).
I had a reading back in June in LA with an exceptionally brilliant Ifa priest, who told me, among other things, that I live too much in my head. You cannot intellectually solve everything, he told me. This was a revelation. What? You mean I can’t always think my way to a solution? Get the fuck outta here!
Along with the thinking comes the talking: the endless deconstruction of a bunch of shit that, in a month or a year or five years, will largely seem meaningless in retrospect, pretty much just a waste of time and breath. If I am tired of hearing myself think, I am doubly tired of hearing myself talk. If only it were just as easy as shutting up, but I’m beginning to learn that the process of mastering the cognitive shift from valuing ‘being informed’ and ‘contributing to the dialogue’ to embracing silence and giving oneself permission to not have – or not express – an opinion is a Sisyphean task.
Last year I stumbled upon a meme that resonated with me deeply: You do not have to attend every argument you’re invited to, it read.
You don’t say.
This is almost anathema to my ‘fighting Irish’/uppity woman’ personal identity. It’s hard work to walk away from the sense of duty to take a position and defend it. Yet all the requests for opinions – at work, on social media, in analog life – have reached a deafening crescendo that has brought me to my knees and leaves me yearning for the blank beauty of silence. Lately I’ve tried visualizing the water beneath the surface of a swimming pool – that lovely chlorinated turquoise quiet outside of time and gravity. For split seconds, I’m able to capture that otherworldly space and empty my head – and I feel sorrow when it recedes, replaced again by the freight train of thought. My hope is that, like a muscle, this ability to descend into disengagement is something that can be strengthened with practice.
And as for my mouth? Maybe we can start there with this silence business. When taking an inventory of all the coworkers and colleagues I’ve had, I observe that the ones I admire the most and the ones I wish to emulate are, ironically, not the fiery orators or showy alphas, but rather the cool, understated masters of their tempers, gliding gracefully down the hall in classy white trousers and well-kept secrets. I want to be one of those people, the ones who understand that silence is power – over both oneself and one’s environment. When one is silent, one conveys a sense of both wisdom and control that leaves others not only guessing but filling the void with their own verbal hemorrhaging, giving away their power with every word.