My brother David, who lives in Taos, New Mexico was in town over the holiday weekend. I took him to my favorite yoga class at 18 Springs and our teacher, Sydney, smiled widely when she saw us. She said we looked like the male and female version of the same person. I’ve heard that a lot. In fact, when I was ten and David was eight sometimes people mistook us for twins; we had similar haircuts. It always makes me feel good when people say I look like my brother, or have some of his characteristics, because I admire him so much. We both share a deep love of nature, laughing, making music, connecting with others and especially hearing people’s stories. One thing I admire so much about David is the way he speaks and listens. He looks deeply at people he’s talking with and he listens intently without interruption. I on the other hand frequently “jump in” when others are talking to enthusiastically share something fun or “helpful”… or if the interaction is on the intense side… to sometimes interrupt defensively.
During his time in Winston-Salem, David and I had been talking a lot about our personal communication patterns and how to create shifts. In the spirit of exploration, we decided to take a walk in Reynolda Woods together and to practice silence on the last day of his visit.
We stopped speaking and smiled at each other as soon as our feet touched the woodchips covering the walking trail. A few minutes later we stepped out of the sun and into the high canopy of bright green leaves. The air grew cooler and soft with humidity. The breeze danced in the underbrush and the stream running next to the trail whispered gently. A bright smell met our next steps and we looked to the right and found a volunteer magnolia tree a few feet from the trail doing it’s best to find enough sun to bloom. It’s such a treat walking with someone you love. Knowing they adore the earth as much, or even more, than you do. Knowing that they are just as delighted to see the coiled up water snake next to the trail. Knowing that, like you, they’ll say hello to this alchemical-being with their heart and look closely, but then leave the dark beauty to their dappled-sun bath.
As we walked deeper into the woods I started thinking about the “elephant in the room” that no one had been talking about during David’s visit. He is going through what my friend Amanda calls an AFGE (another fucking growth experience). A really big one that’s drawn-out and painful. My brother is a private person and careful refrains from telling stories about his life that make things worse or could hurt others. So in regards to his AFGE, I had decided not to bring it up unless he did, out of respect and compassion. This was not easy as it is not my nature to just let things lie. I’m a big believer in having uncomfortable conversations when it would be helpful to bring an issue into the light. And I know well how when you get stuck in circular thinking the pinball effect in your head and heart can create lots of suffering and cause you to lose perspective.
Over the past four days, nearly every time I’d thought about mentioning the “elephant in the room,” I’d decided no. I’d be patient until David initiated. Then an intuitive shift occurred the night before when he was talking to his sweet wife and bubbly nine-year-old daughter on the phone. Through their voices I’d been given a glimpse into the softness of his heart. As we walked through our tiny forest, the urge to share what had come to me in a few brief sentences kept getting stronger and stronger. But then I’d remind myself that we were in silence and that he’d bring up the subject if he wanted to. But after a dozen more steps the urge intensified. I finally decided to follow my instinct to break the silence for just a few moments. But what would be the best, most gentle, most helpful approach, I wondered.
That’s when I walked through the spider web. I heard Spider telling me that the threads of stories and sharing are both strong and delicate. When you artfully spin your threads and anchor them with grace, your sharing is beautiful. But these threads can be quite delicate and are easily broken if you hastily push through or go too quickly. I listened deeply into Spider’s message and walked with it for a while. After a few minutes David and I came to a bench by the lake and I thought, “Ah that would be a sweet spot to share from.” I gestured to the bench and we sat down. After a moment I spoke softly saying there was something I wanted to say that I felt was important enough to break our silence, just for a minute or so. And then I told my brother what was in my heart. It was a moment I’ll hold close from now on.
For those who have spent some time with me, you know this is not my typical way of communicating. I’m usually enthusiastic, verbose, and can often be on the intense side. But after our silent walk in the peacefully-vibrant woods, and my message from Spider, I was able to access a deeper and more beautiful way of Speaking My Truth.
I’ve been craving this shift for a long time. For the last year I’ve been trying a number of methods to break my patterns of talking fast, loud, interrupting, speaking critically, and a host of other things I won’t bore you with. Nothing I’ve tried has been satisfactorily effective. But then at last month’s women’s circle my teacher read a tale about man who stopped speaking for a while as part of his spiritual evolution. During that part of the story my heart reached out for the idea saying… ah… maybe that’s the key to shifting these patterns that are causing me, and those around me, pain… or at the very least, repeat annoyance and discomfort.
After a few weeks of considering not speaking as a way to shift my communication patterns, I started playing around with how it could work in my day-to-day life. I told my family and close friends about the idea. At first they’d look at me with a blank stare, and then they’d become curious. Interestingly, three of my “close ones” were most worried about our little, one-year-old dog, Sprite, and how she would handle my silence. I figured if that was the biggest problem, that I really didn’t have much of reason not to follow my gut and make the leap. And anyway, as long as I gave Sprite lots of attention, a couple extra treats here and there, my guess was that she’d take my not talking for a while in stride.
So I made the choice to swim out to what I’m calling “My Silence Experiment.” When I wake up on June 8th, 2016, I’ll smile at my husband as he brings me my morning coffee, but no words will cross my lips that day. Before I go to sleep, I’ll make my decision about the next day, and so on and so forth, through June 29th.
Twenty-one days of silence is the goal.
I may decide at the end of day one that in fact it was really hard on Sprite, and me, and the rest of my close ones. If I end up freaking out all day long, I can call the experiment quits. I’m sincerely hoping that won’t be the case.
The way I was able to speak and listen to my brother during our silent walk in the woods got me excited and increased my craving for a shift. It spiked my curiosity about what could happen during a 21-Day Adventure. I’m guessing it will be hard, but I’m
betting it could also be fascinating. Perhaps I’ll learn to hear things in a different way. Navigating through social situations without talking could enhance my problem solving skills and activate my creativity. I’m thinking of wearing a little button that says “I’m practicing silence today” that I can point to with a smile when people talk to me and expect a response. A little pad of paper for merely logistical stuff (like telling my son I expect him home before midnight) is also in the plan. But during my talking break I won’t be verbally sharing my opinions, ah ha moments, feelings, or “you should do this” lists with others.
I know that much of the stuff that comes out of my mouth is fluffy at best and critical at worst. I know that my children are much more interested in finding their own solutions to challenges than listening to my advice. I know that my husband shuts down when I’m critical about something he’s doing and lights up when I share something I admire and respect about him.
I’ve known all of this for a while. But speaking from this wisdom, or pausing, or discerning that not speaking my thoughts is the kindest or most-helpful option, hasn’t been easy for me. My sincere wish is that with a good bit of Divine Grace and Ease, and in the spirit of a fun-adventure, “My Silence Experiment” will result in fascinating discoveries that I can enjoy myself and share with you.