Tell me you don’t wistfully long to take a vow of silence

The piece below is an (emailed) interview with monks who do the vow of silence thing. I’m constantly drawn to this idea. It feels like it would be more like a vacation than a fast – freedom from words rather than the imposition of silence. I wonder, if you stopped communicating in words, would you stop thinking in words as well? Or would you constantly be mentally composing all the bits of dialogues you couldn’t say?

I went to a silent interactive performance art party/event last year and it was both liberating and deeply discomfiting to be robbed of the ability to explain myself. I could apologise, with facial expressions or gestures, but I couldn’t give context, make clear my intentions or motivations, “here’s what I was thinking when I… here’s what I was aiming for” – which is something I do almost constantly. You just had to let your actions stand for themselves (but also, people were more forgiving, because they knew there was stuff you couldn’t say. Which is good practice for dealing with the rudeness of strangers: there’s so much context they can’t give you that might explain their actions).

The other tough part was seeing some cool thing in one part of the event – a silent drag show, a mime competition, a strawberry tasting – and then not being able to tell your friends what you’d just seen and where you’d been. You could point, and make your eyes shine – it was amazing! – but that was about it. You had to just accept that you were not capable of making yourself fully understood, and that you were not capable of fully understanding anyone else. There is a meaning here, but I cannot access it. (Again, good practice for the rest of life – it’s much easier to assume, when you’ve heard all the words, that you get what there is to be got. But you probably don’t.)

I’m trying to think of ways to make this acceptable – parties is the obvious one – but another might be something like the 40-Hour Famine, Movember or Dry July. Not everyone would do it, but people wouldn’t find it strange that you were, because it would be a Thing. You’d just gesture, and they’d get it.

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How silence works: Emailed conversations with four Trappist monks

Credit: Daniel Tibi“The silence does make me aware of my inner workings … I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods. Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself.

I’ve become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps — just paying attention to my surroundings.” Full article

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