Words are funny. You can string them together and the words flow out as a compliment, or, with the slightest pause, intended or not, the words are suddenly an insult. Silences are the same.
I’ve been mulling over some conversations I’ve overheard and taken part in recently and far in the past. The subtext of these conversations often seemed to insinuate that words cloud the mind and silence is where true meaning and spirituality rests. That in exchanging dialogue, especially with folks of opposing views, we are giving in, in some small or large way, to our egos.
Perhaps I am mistaken about this interpretation, but I don’t think so.
In silence we can obtain peace, theoretically. We crowd out that pesky voice of the ego, constantly clammering for attention, and finally let ourselves connect to the world around us. Um, really? No, silence actually can have the opposite effect. Silence lets us connect with ourselves, sure. We need to do that on occasion, heck, daily, but silence does not connect us to the world. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not referring to meditation. Meditation is amazing. It allows us the wonderful ability to relax and to feel every single muscle in our body, to feel each muscle relaxing with each breath, and connect with inner selves. We feel like we’re connected to the world around us, but that’s the immediate world. My physical therapist called me “zen lady” because my years of martial arts trained me such that if she pointed to a place on my body and said, “I need you to relax these muscles”, I would close my eyes, take a breath and relax those muscles. I love meditation. But I don’t feel like it makes me a better person. My silence in meditation connects me to my inner self, to feeling peaceful. But then, what I noticed with myself, that if I can only find peace in silence, by shutting out the noise around me, then what does that really mean about my spirituality? Shouldn’t I be able to find my inner peace on the streets, in the loud din of a noisy restaurant, in the screaming match between my one and three year old?
In truth, I don’t actually find peace in silence. I used to, don’t get me wrong – I would build myself whole different worlds where I could exist in silence, and no one could ever reach me. When I think of silence, I think of this timid former self, who never had the courage to speak up, who shunned the spoken word, because it would mean connection, and worse, revelation. If I spoke, then I would reveal all that was broken in my world. I would reveal my weakness. My stupidity. My poverty. My flaws. Myself.
In silence, I watched my mother’s abuse. In silence, I watched my own abuse. That’s how it felt, and my words were chosen carefully. I watched my own abuse. It happened to another girl, another me, who could close her eyes and be somewhere else. I swallowed my own words until a part of me, then all of me, felt like I was drowning in silence.
But I am not that broken girl anymore. Nowadays, if I’m silent, it means I’m struggling. It means that I am feeling lost.
My goal in life is to grow and learn, and I don’t challenge myself except when I write, speak aloud, or otherwise give myself the opportunity to embarrass myself horribly. Somehow, I find the courage to humbly eat my own words and utter the phrase “I’m sorry, I stand corrected.” My experience is my own, limited as it may be, and it colors my perception of the world. By sharing my words, my truths, I open myself up to the experiences of others, and other truths. I find strength in the world of shared experiences. I find peace in the strength shown in the words of others.
If we don’t share ourselves, if we don’t invest ourselves in the shared world of words, what connection are we truly making? I think Simon and Garfunkel really had something when they said:
“Fools,” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.”
I am not very spiritual. Well, that’s somewhat inaccurate, because I grew up thinking constantly about religion and spirituality. It informed my studies, and love of medieval society, and I still constantly dwell on spirituality. And words. The word spirituality is based on the word “spiro”, to breathe, and thus spiritus is breath. With every word we speak, we put forward our spirit. Our breath. Our animus, if you will.
Spirituality, to me, is in the connection with the world and the people who inhabit it. It’s in how we speak to others, it’s in the love we share, the kindness we show, and the willingness to help when someone needs it. When my feet are in the mud, and I’m showing my daughter how to plant seeds, I feel my fingers in the dirt reaching back to my own 5-year-old self, sitting next to my mother, and back to her mother, and her mother before her. We are biologically linked to everything surrounding us. That homeless man on the corner, clearly struggling with mental illness, alcohol and drugs? We’re connected to him. He is a part of us, part of our society. Our silence does not help him – teaching our children to avoid him, ignore him does not help us either.
I find spirituality in the connection with all the people who came before and who will come after me. That connection is found often through these pesky things – words. Written for centuries, and taught to me in class by learned folks who I know also wonder if they’re using the right words. I know that I am but a small part of this world and the many feet that have walked this earth, and voices that have breathed life into the volumes and pages of the many books that fill the libraries here, but I am still me. I am here. I am important, whether others would have me focus on how egotistical that might be to think such thoughts. Personally, I think it’s somewhat egotistical to tell others how they should think about how small they are. Most people already swimming in a world of insignificance, so why do we reach back to truths that minimize our own existence? That make us look at ourselves and say “You are nothing.”
We are all something.
My words, poor as they may be, are my own, and they fall from my lips or fingers at my discretion. My breath is my own, and I choose to breathe out life where people admire people for being willing to make mistakes, to explore themselves and grow by it. To breathe myself into the world, in all my flawed, zany, glory, and hopefully touch a few lives for the better while I’m here.
I found my voice and I am still learning to use it, but by God, I’m going to use it. I’m going to teach my daughter and my son how to breathe, to enjoy words, and how to shape the world around us with them.
Our words show our soul.