Speaking in Silence
June 11, 2016
Imagine a day or even weeks without speaking a single word. What would your morning routine look like? What would you discover: about yourself, your relationships, your true needs, and the methods of communication you rely on?
My two year old daughter is the best communicator in the family. She has yet to speak many comprehensive words. She is able to communicate her humble desires by using only “uh-huh”, “no” and simple body language. This is a true testament to the effectiveness of non-verbal communication. The Polynesian people choose to play Nose Flutes for ceremonial purposes; as they believe the mouth is contaminated by the “dirty” words that we may speak throughout our lifetime. They believe, like so many cultures around the world, that pure breath or prana only disseminates from the nose, rather than the mouth. Thus, the sounds coming from the Nose Flute are of pure and clean intention.
Yes, I recently decided to take a personal vow of silence for an indefinite amount of time, because I was feeling confused and frustrated with some of my personal relationships; and I felt my words were complicating and interfering with my true intentions. I chose to refrain from speaking to everyone; including my three children, husband, friends, extended family, co-workers and even strangers in the attempt to find this much needed awareness. I decided to carry on doing all the things I typically do, but without uttering a single word. In the past, I embarked on many herbal cleanses and fasts, but this would be my first ever “Verbal” fast. I also deliberately overindulged in the herbs I typically consume, and limited my phone texting and computer usage during this time to aid in the effectiveness of my verbal cleanse. Silent retreats, where people gather in ashram-like settings with others, also seeking personal clarity, have existed for a long time. Although I was intrigued by the concept, I felt more compelled to integrate my silence into my existing lifestyle just as it was. So, without speaking, I started my day in the same way I always do. What I was about to discover, was enlightening and life-changing: gaining insight into my 2 year old daughter’s silent secrets; and discovering personal meaning with regards to the power of pure breath as in that of the Hawaiian’s traditions.
SIMPLIFYING THE MESSAGE
I carried a journal with me everywhere I went, so I could communicate to people why I was not engaging in communication at this time, and to jot down messages to aid in communicating larger topic points when needed. At first, my scriptures were long-winded and rambling, but in the middle of my verbal fast I began to write less words as my messages became quite succinct, simple and to the point. I began to intuitively realize how few words I needed to convey things that mattered; and how much dialogue I typically engage in that is relatively meaningless. By avoiding chit-chat and small talk, I found that breath and silence were the natural replacements. I used to find this silence awkward, but now I realize how important taking this pause is for both the messenger and recipient to digest the dialogue; to give thought; to breathe; and then to respond. The response to my little hand-written messaging was astonishing. Most people embraced me and smiled; some said good for you, in quick support; others just locked eyes with me and nodded in understanding. But most of all, people stopped what it was they were doing, taking a moment in their busy life to connect with me, and consider what it was that I was trying to communicate.
RISING ABOVE THE NOISE
Prior to my decision to stop speaking, my day would begin as I imagine many other parent’s days’ begin: a swirling morning routine to feed the family, get the children dressed for school, prepping lunches for the afternoon, while cleaning dishes from the morning meal. In our house, these morning rituals come with an exceptional amount of noise, penetrating the air from every angle: children interacting, dishes clanking, knives chopping, and blenders blending. In the clamoring to pack lunches for the children, a medley of words spew forth from my mouth over and above all the background noises: “Please get dressed; brush the knots from your hair; where are your shoes? Give that back to your sister; can you fill your water bottle? What time is it? We are going to be late if we don’t leave in five minutes …” Now, I was to perform this morning ritual without speaking. At first, this was super challenging, but as days and weeks passed, there was a calm that became present in not only my behavior, but in the family as a whole. Everyone was more responsive, and everyone was making more eye contact with one another, working together to decode my body language and/or my facial expressions. It became a game with my children. In the whole two weeks I went silent, my children were surprisingly unaffected, except in a positive way. In fact, in many instances, the communication with them became easier than when I was speaking; and it felt like there was hardly any disruption in their needs and wishes and above all our daily routine during this time.
I found myself avoiding confrontation and engaging in more human contact; whether it was an embrace from a friend, a hug from my husband, or my children playfully wrestling with me. As a result of simply not speaking, I was engaging in more human emotion and physical touch with everyone around me.
As the days rolled on, I was surprised to learn that cleansing myself of the spoken word and only using the written word when necessary, was empowering me with more and more physical, mental and emotional energy. It became super clear to me how much energy we expend just “speaking”. I found that by writing my words, it gave me a chance to pause in the moment and choose my words more carefully. I found myself going to bed fulfilled and not drained from countless daily verbal exchanges as I’ve done so many nights prior to this verbal fast. As a result, I was able to be more creative and more focused on the here and now.
CHANGING MY TONE
By the end of week one along this personal journey, I started to recall moments from my childhood where I was spoken to in certain tones of voice and how these tones conjured up certain feelings and stressful physical responses. It became clear that I inherited some of these harsh tones when I speak, which has negatively affected my personal relationships. When these tones were absent in the two weeks of my silence, my words were not able to be misinterpreted. I became aware that the simple tone in which I speak has the power to create positive and negative vibrations. This was clearly revealing when reflecting on previous stressful dialogues with others. The tone of voice is just as important as the words we choose to communicate with.
In silence, my other sensory systems were certainly heightened. I tuned into what I was hearing both literally and metaphorically. I was able to dissect important conversation from mindless gossip. And I was even able to see what people were going to say before they’d say it, by registering their body language or facial expressions. Touch became such a receptor of information for me. However, my most important discovery was that I found myself hearing the sound of my own breath. How often is there enough silence in a conversation where we can actually hear our own breathing pattern? This made me realize how much I take for granted; specifically the inhalation and exhalation that takes place before, during and after the spoken word; this very prominent yet invisible fuel which feeds my body.
Silence taught me stillness; Stillness taught me to listen; listening taught me to consider the breath; Now, I make time to celebrate the space and openness that my breath enables. I cannot believe how many times I actually hold my breath in any given day without knowing it. This oxygen depletion is a sure way to fog anyone’s brain. With conscious breathing, comes clarity; with clarity comes conscious communication.
Two weeks into my verbal cleanse, I felt a strong calling to immerse myself in nature; deep into nature to be silent with myself. I had arrived an hour early to pick up my son from a science fair. It was a solid hour to be with myself, and by myself in my silence. Staring out my car window, I peered out onto the emerald green mountains of Hanalei with abundant waterfalls cascading down their rugged walls, and made a decision to run up a hiking trail on the mountain of Hi’i Manu. In only one hour, this presented a challenge, but I went for it anyway. Full speed, running in my silence without a single person on the trail at that late hour; running up over roots, over fallen logs covered in moss, smiling and touching the leaves of trees seemingly whizzing by me as I continued my ascent, I felt a freedom that I have never felt before. This connection to nature moved me in a way I cannot explain in “words” of any kind. The silence allowed me to hear every crackling stick below my feet and the whistle of the moving air swirling around me amongst the chirping of the neighboring birds. I’d hiked that trail many times, speaking the whole way through; missing out on the music that nature’s silence offers. Smiling the whole way through, my heartbeat was at full capacity and my breath was rhythmic with my dancing footsteps carrying me. Oxygen was abundantly spewing out from all the plant life around me, and circulating through my wordless mouth into my awaiting and embracing lungs. A sunset at the peak’s lookout and the gift of freedom was the ultimate reward that day.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
Everyone kept asking me during this verbal fast when I would be breaking my silence. To be honest, I did not go into this with a pre-determined length of time, and the more I continued to not speak, the less I wanted to speak. My life seemed simpler, more peaceful, more focused on the things that mattered to me. I felt like if I never spoke another word, life would be just fine. But destiny chose the time for me to speak once again. I was blending herbs in the tea house, when my son came running from across the farm holding his mouth, which was gushing with blood. My maternal instinct switched on, and with a deliberate conscious decision to break my silence, my voice projected the one word that I knew would help him, and I opened my mouth and out poured the word “Yarrow!” Shawn, one of the Kauai Farmacy gardeners within earshot, came running with yarrow in hand; the magical blood-clotting herb. The blood coagulated immediately and thankfully he was fine. And on the 14th day of my personal pursuit to clarity, my verbal fast was officially broken.
RESURRECTING A NEW VOICE
My vocal chords had not vibrated with sound for two full weeks, and when I started to speak once again, my voice sounded very different then it had before. It sounded like someone else’s voice. Even, others around me thought the same. Perhaps it was the words I chose to speak, my breath or the tone in which I spoke. I guess it isn’t important. What is important is how revealing these two weeks of silence and herbal cleansing were for me. Things are forever changed in me. I hope to be able to partake in more verbal fasts in the future, and celebrate the richness of the silence that is present in my every day.