I talk too much.
I claim this fact as an occupational hazard but more likely it’s a personality defect as well. Listening is hard sometimes.
It’s not that I have an egotistical love of my own voice (at least that’s what I tell myself), rather I want two things: to understand and demonstrate that I understand.
This certainly causes problems because I’ll sometimes interrupt and interject exhibiting the exact opposite of displaying any understanding. Instead, this practice demonstrates that I really don’t hear what’s being shared with me.
I struggle with stillness in those moments.
In other words, I struggle to be still. I struggle with silence. When I am attentive to this and can keep my damn mouth shut, that’s when actual understanding happens.
Norwegian explorer and writer Erling Kagge believes in silence. It’s not just that he believes in it — saying you believe in something such as silence is a lot like saying that you believe in air — no, for him silence is a primal need, a pathway to living fully in the world.
Silence is not today’s norm.
Noise surrounds us in its various forms. Sadly, it has become increasingly hard to find two things in this world today: a less populated place that has yet to be mapped, or a place of quietude.
Smartphones, computers, traffic, people, television; the list seems endless.
The noise of civilization seems ever-present and inescapable, so much so that even our attempts to recede from such audiological trauma feel futile. The iPhone still buzzes on silent, someone hollers from a distant room, or beyond the woods the hum of the highway persists.
Yesterday, I was reading student essays in class when I overheard a student complaining about his phone’s insistence that he acknowledge his incoming texts. He asked, exasperatedly, “Does anyone know why ‘do not disturb’ mode is still disturbing me?”
No one had an answer for him. He remained “disturbed” — as did we all — for the rest of the class.
The world provides as much disturbance as it provides entertainment. Some might argue there’s little difference between the two.
Can we ever escape the noisy gravity of the world around us?
We know that we can, but doing so is not always a possibility. Generally, interacting with the world on daily basis is non-negotiable for most of us. Even when we take vacations, we’re never really ‘vacating’ and rarely are we seeking out silence. At these times we’re simply relocating our anxieties to a different GPS coordinate and delaying them thanks to alcohol, food, sex and other distractions until our eventual return pushes the typical noisy crap back on our plates.
Some days I’d love to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign around my neck. You know the ones that hang off hotel room doors? Some even have pithy sayings on them. That would be helpful having a repertoire of small plastic placards that you could suspend from your neck reflection the day’s dominant mood.
Kagge writes, “Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.” He asks three simple questions: What is silence? Where is it? Why is it more important now than ever? To answer such questions, Kagge suggests tapping into the silence around us as well as the silence within us.
For my part, I plan to follow Kagge’s lead to the extent that I can. I will grab the subtle silence in the business of the daily world. And I will find smaller spaces, inside and out, where I might cradle a deeper more meditative quiet.
Hopefully this will give my oft-opened mouth ample opportunity to shut itself before somebody else decides to do it for me. And maybe then silence can become more than an absent sound rarely made.