d5 living bridge Meghalaya Rex Features

Silence is a bridge. Photo by Rex.

Silence is Surprisingly Easy

When I’m out and about I’m a big talker. I’m typically chatty and love asking people questions to draw them out so I can hear their stories. So I thought it was going to be incredibly challenging to not engage verbally. (I’m in the midst of a 21 Day Silence Experiment you can read about here). Turns out it is much easier than I imagined it would be. If I can look people in the eye and smile warmly, a good part of my social needs are met immediately. I discovered that it is the connection I love the most, not the talking part. I always thought one of my gifts was being open to, and deeply interested in, other people’s stories. That is still true, but what I uncovered is that I tend to re-direct people as they’re sharing. I ask questions about what most interests ME, instead of allowing them to speak what is most important to them. I find that now, I like the stories even more when they are allowed to flow naturally without my “help.”

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Listening to Magnolia in Reynolda Gardens

It’s Imperfect

Like all practices, this has not unfolded in a perfect way. There’s a learning curve to not talking and I’ve slipped up a few times. When I’m first waking up I forget about My Experiment, and sometimes I murmur, “hey sweetheart” to my dog or my husband (whoever is snuggled up closest to me at the time). If I’m daydreaming, or watching TV with Tim, and something casual comes up that I want to express, I’ve said out loud, “What did she just say?” or “ What’s the name of that uptown song by Bruno Mars again?” When those slip ups happen, I just shrug and gesture “Oh well,” with my hands. I figure that since my challenge is not these small ways of expressing myself, it’s not a big deal. My deep desire is to shift what happens when I speak out of anger, or frustration, or my need to overly-orchestrate my world. So when I slip I gently remind myself I’m practicing.

Having a Sense of Humor Is Important

When people first realize that I’m not talking (on purpose, and not because I have laryngitis), it’s awkward. But then when I smile, or if something happens that makes me laugh, people get that it’s not uber-serious. Then they relax, and sometimes have fun with it, and best of all, really look me in the eyes and sometimes hug me. As Mark Twain said… “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

blog Taylor and me selfie

My 14-Year-Old Daughter Would Rock Charades

I’ve never played charades with Taylor, but the next time I need an especially gifted partner I am going to bring her along. Many times over the past week when I’ve been trying to communicate something small (using pretend sign language) to my husband, son, teacher, or friends… they totally miss it. But if Taylor is within sight distance, she’ll chime in, and 90% of the time she’s nailed it. She is so good at knowing what I’m trying to say, that when it’s just the two of us, I have to be careful to not start communicating deeper stuff than, “Yes, you can go to your friends house.” Complex communication would break the guidelines I’ve set for myself. But man, she makes it tempting. I’m grateful that I get to have fun with her during this adventure, and that I have someone at home who doesn’t need me to write them little notes.

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Our littlest dog, Sprite, and our biggest dude, Magellan.

Dogs Dig Sign Language

Our three dogs are not upset about my not talking to them. In fact, I think they like sign language much better than verbal commands. When I snap my fingers quietly and point to the ground next to me they immediately come over. When I point to the door, they go right inside. If they bark at someone walking by outside the house and I shoot them a look, they get quiet and go lie down. When we go on walks they rarely pull, and if they do a quick little pop of the leash is all the reminder they need. It’s amazing. When I would talk to them I’d end up repeat commands again and again, my tone escalating. But now, it’s like magic how quickly and sweetly they respond. It is a much gentler and subtle way of communicating. Of course, they enjoy the extra attention they’ve been getting, but they also seem more responsive since they need to be more plugged in to me since they know now I’m not going to “call out” to them. I wish I had tried this method of animal communion a long time ago!

Singing Is Not Talking

I’m not talking, but I am singing. No, I’m not singing what I want to say instead of just speaking. I mean I’ve decided that singing someone else’s words in a song is not direct
communication. So I’ve been indulging in singing along with my ukulele when I’m practicing, blog singingand I do the Om at the end of yoga, and Tim and I are going to our voice lesson with Martha Bassett later this week. Not only is the singing OK, it has become part of learning using my voice differently. Focusing on my breath, placing my mouth in an open, smiling position for a brighter tone, and keeping my shoulders relaxed, is about learning to have a different kind of sound come out of my mouth. This is perfectly in line with my goals of using my voice to communicate in an even more beautiful, relaxed way. I’ve never enjoyed singing more than I have this past week.

Frustration Can Lead To Softening

My husband and my 17-year-old son started getting really frustrated after a few days of my gesturing, and then if that didn’t work, writing a word or phrase on a piece of paper if I really needed to communicate something small. I’d told them in advance why I was choosing this Silence Experiment, but recently I stared wondering if they had really heard me. So yesterday I wrote them each a one-page note about the reasons behind my new practice.

The notes went something like this,

“I know my silence has become frustrating for you. I want you to know that YOU are one of the main reasons I’m not talking.

I know it hurts your feelings when I don’t let you finish when you are telling me something important – or difficult.

I know you don’t like it when I boss you around and tell you what to do all the time.

I know it is harsh when I’m super-critical.

I’ve been trying to change this way of talking/communicating for over a year now, and as you know, I haven’t had much success.

This is why I’m trying silence.

I figure that the frustration in the family of me not talking will be worth it if it helps me break these habits and moves me into a more beautiful way of sharing what is in my heart.

Of course, I realize that it may not work, but I figured it was worth a try since the other things I’ve done recently haven’t had lasting results.

And hey, what if it DOES work? Won’t that be kind of cool?”

Both my husband and my son softened a lot after reading their note. I think I even noticed a bit of a tear in the younger one’s eye. I realized that before I had entered the silence, either I hadn’t explained myself clearly… or they hadn’t fully heard my “whys.” It’s very possible that I’d gone on and on and on when talking about what I was going to do, that after a while, they’d tuned me out. But after six days of no communication from me beyond gestures to ask “please pass the butter,” they both really “listened” to what I had to say… from the heart.

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Taylor, me with Sprite, my mom Elaine, Johnathan with Jesse, and Magellan. Photo by Tim.