In a world often dominated by noise, silence has the power to make us anxious. The space of silence makes us uncomfortable and we want to fill the space with something, anything to distract us.
I experienced this the other morning. I was meeting a friend for breakfast and caught rideshare DiDi to where we were meeting. Within 30 seconds of getting into the car I realised something was different, and then I twigged. The radio wasn’t on, no sound to fill the internal space of the car. He didn’t even have his own music playing through Spotify or another app. Apart from introductory pleasantries, the driver was not the chatty type, so we drove in silence to my breakfast. There was nothing to fill the space between us and I could feel my anxiety levels rising. The driver seemed comfortable in his own bubble of silence; it was me who was beginning to feel anxious.
I found my sense of creeping anxiety interesting, because I am a person who professes to love silence. The older I get, the more I crave silence.
Silence has its own language and we need silence to learn the language of silence.
In silence we can hear our wisdom. If you are like me, it is challenging not only to believe but to trust our innate wisdom. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist family. The Fall as outlined in Genesis Chapter 3 was taken literally. The consequence of such as belief was you could not trust yourself because you were flawed and broken. You had to be saved from yourself by an outside power that was greater than yourself and who could read your every thought.
As a result of this screwed up theology, I spent years looking outside myself for salvation. Listening to words of other people, trying to live up to external standards, ignoring the innate wisdom of my own soul.
It is in silence; I can hear and sense the wisdom of my soul. Let me be clear, hearing the wisdom of my soul does not necessarily make me wise. I still do stupid things. Becoming wise is a journey. Hopefully, I am becoming wiser, but I will be the first to admit, I still have my “oh f*&k” it moments, where I consciously descend into stupidity. Perhaps stupidity, as long as it doesn’t hurt another person has its own wisdom.
The other thing I am learning from silence is a double pronged lesson. It is the dignity of grief and the dignity of another person’s journey through that grief.
When my only son died, people meant well but they talked to me, but most of their comments I found vacuous. They asked me how I was feeling, asked me if I would be ok. Telling me, they were praying for me. As I said, they meant well, yet their talking required my response, it required something from me, when my soul was balancing on the precipice of grief and despair. What would have helped were people who were comfortable with silence, who could sit with me, walk with me, not talking, not asking, not filling the silence with their well-meaning anxiety. People who would dignify my grief with the gift of silence.
My daughters, as adults are now accumulating their own griefs and disappointments in life. I am conscious as their father, to both allow them the dignity of their grief and disappointment and to trust their soul will guide them with their innate wisdom. That is the ideal I strive for, while at the same time often acknowledging my fathering instincts take over and I am probably too directive with them.
As parents we would love to be able to shelter our children, even when they are adults from the challenges of life, yet as Rumi reminds us, our children
our children are not our children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
Sometimes, we need to sit in silence with our children. Knowing they come from us, but do not belong to us and model for them a comfortableness with silence that will allow them to hear their own wisdom for the journey they must take.
Silence has much to teach us, if we would learn to be comfortable in silence.