Two empty benches

The Language of Silence

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I believe that in our interactions with others, we often don’t value the power, and necessity, of silence.

In my youth, and even in young adulthood, I was terrified of silence. Refusing to allow silence in my interactions with others meant that I would never have to face the contents of that silence — feelings of fear, anger, and depression. People used to refer to me as “the guy that’s always smiling”, but my smiles were merely makeup hiding an emotional mess which lay beneath.

During a time of psychological desperation in my 20’s, a caring friend suggested to me that psychotherapy might be worth a try. My psychotherapist, acting from years of experience and with emotional expertise, helped me to confront the emotional distress I was hiding from view. Eventually, after many sessions and the shedding of many tears, I became silent. I was able to be silent in the presence of another person for the first time. From that point forward, silence has been a central aspect of my life, and I recognise it to be one of the most important components of healthy relationships.

A popular and commonly used phrase is “I was just making conversation”, and some of us do that a lot — chatting without any real depth or purpose. Speaking out loud is not really necessary a lot of the time if we are sensitive to other people’s feelings. I believe that we would all be much healthier psychologically, and therefore happier, if we shifted our focus to emotions rather than words, and learned to be comfortable with exploring the silence in between our words, and the emotions which may be present in the silence.

Often we store up emotions in our bodies as a defence mechanism which is used in order to cope with emotional or physical distress. We use phrases such as “I need to get it off my chest” because we recognise that sometimes there are emotions trapped in our bodies that need to find expression and release. Being silent in the presence of an emotionally mature person can help us explore these emotions, which are easily hidden in casual conversation and the chaos of everyday life.

You may like to ask yourself this question: Am I as comfortable being in silence when I am around other people as when I am alone? If not, why not? What am I afraid will happen in the silence?

Just imagine, for a second, being around your friends and family, and everyone sitting together in silence for an hour. I wonder what insights and lessons would be learned during that time.

Silence can be a beautiful and liberating thing. We can only really be ‘with’ someone if we can be silent with them. True silence never gets boring. It is fullness rather than emptiness. You only truly understand who a person is, and connect with them properly, when you have had the experience of being with them in silence.

11 comments

  1. I loved this post and completely relate to it, for myself. However, I just have not learned your lesson on silence — yet! You give me encouragement to know that what my mind knows to be true and right, eventually will catch up to my heart, and help me embrace silence in the presence of others. Thank you for this well thought out, felt, and written post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jane, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I honestly think that it’s a lifelong journey coming to understand these things. I know I’m still growing and learning. My approach is to try to be gentle with myself about those areas of my character that need development (there are many!) while still always striving to do my best.

      Silence is very difficult, not necessarily because you’re bad at it, but because the majority of people aren’t used to it. How can we practise silence when everyone around us is a chatterbox? It’s really tough, and what I try to do is just express openly whatever I’m feeling (in social situations), hoping it will encourage others to do the same, and this will leader to greater connection, and therefore greater stillness. It’s really, really difficult.

      Thanks again for your comment, your humble heart and desire to improve yourself are wonderful qualities and reading your comment is the highlight of my day so far! Peace be with you 🙂

      Like

  2. Interesting topic, Steven! I know many people who cannot stand silence and must fill any conversational gap quickly. Two things come to mind with this. #1, in a devotional study for teen girls I read a decade ago, they spoke about how “God girls” don’t need to fill up the space with empty words. Though the phrase “God girls” is a bit silly, the point has stuck in the back of my mind. When I speak, do I say important and loving things, or am I desperate to hear the sound of my own voice, filling up space with gossip, mindless chatter, nagging, etc? #2, sort of in that same vein, a Bible verse from Ephesians 4:29– “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” This quote also sticks with me.

    It would be such an interesting experiment to ask everyone to sit in a room and be silent for a few minutes. I think we don’t like to be left alone with our thoughts too long–I wonder if that’s why so many people need a TV on to fall asleep. I actually like working and reading by myself for hours in silence, but a lot of people couldn’t do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the first things that I tell anyone who talks to me for any length of time is: just so you know, I often pause in my talking and sit in silence. I am comfortable in silence and thought. I don’t need idle chatter or conversation. Give me the deep things. Even while typing out responses to blog posts or emails, I often sit in silence between sentences or words.

    I also learned, years ago when I experienced my first real, deep loss, that the best source of healing came from an unexpected person who simple came and SAT next to me in SILENCE. She said nothing. She did not attempt to “heal” me or get me to talk or touch me… she simply sat with me in silence…. and that was the best feeling of all. I cherish that time. It was over an hour as I sat weeping, and she sat with me.

    Silence. Real silence. The art of listening. Listening to nature. Listening to God. Listening to your own thoughts and ordering them…. is, in my opinion, highly underrated.

    Too often we are bombarded with phones and TV and vehicles driving by and social media and work and busy busy busy busy… we neglect the art of silence.

    Excellent article as always, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tara, what a beautiful story, how you sat with that person in silence, and the simple act of them being fully present with you had such a healing effect. That speaks volumes!

      You just made me think, perhaps one of the reasons why hugs are so powerful and healing is that they often provide a moment of pause and silence in the midst of a long flow of words. I think that’s why people often cry when they are hugged (aside from the joy of the physical contact, of course!).

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Tara 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you. Hugs are indeed very powerful. To embrace and be embraced. It takes one back to that womb-like state.

        I personally have a hug-rule…. it’s said that a person will hug as long as they need it, so for some that’s a second and some it’s minutes. My rule is to always let the person I’m hugging release the hug first. In that way, I am fully present and in-tune with their needs. Sometimes that hug lasts minutes… and I’m okay with that. Sometimes it’s hug and release. I’m a hugger so I want to hug all sorts of people. But since I have made the hug about the other person over myself, they have become much more satisfying, if that makes any sense. It’s that moment of silence, of connectedness. The release. Which, as you mentioned, often brings a big release of pent-up emotion.

        Regardless, I recommend sitting in silence whenever you can. Practice real silence and real listening. It may surprise you what you will hear and learn. I don’t mean the stuff-your-emotions silence. The biting the lip but angrily yelling in your mind silence isn’t real silence at all. The silence that listens, in my mind, is the pure silence of healing and forward (upward) momentum.

        Much love and light to you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Tara! I like your hug rule, except that if the other person has the same hug rule the hug couldn’t potentially last for thousands or even billions of years… perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing 😁

          I think that since psychotherapy, silence is my natural state. I carry it around with me. It’s a kind of emotional silence. Maybe describing it as a peace would be more appropriate. I’ll tell you what I mean in more detail one day, or maybe write a piece about it.

          Thanks for sharing your insights, friend. Loved your post today. Have a great weekend.

          Liked by 1 person

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