One of my oldest bucket list items is to take an extended vow of silence. Ideally, I’d like to do it for a month at first, but maybe even work my way up to a year. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but I strongly believe that there is something unbelievably valuable to be learned by not speaking.
I tried it once. For a day. I only made it a few hours. The problem arose when I was faced with an instance that talking was required of me. I hadn’t thought of how to actually get a message across without speaking, I was too focused on the not speaking part. In order to take a vow of silence, you have to give up more than just your voice. You must give up using the phone, teaching a class, ordering food, telling your dog to sit or stay (or you’d have to retrain him/her to learn hand commands before taking the vow). I had no idea how much bigger of a task it was to actually stop speaking.
Then there is the question of, “Is communicating through other means cheating?” What about writing? Can I use sign language? Do these defeat the purpose of a vow of silence? I haven’t sanded out the edges on this yet, hence why it is still on my bucket list, but I will take a vow of silence in my lifetime, then report back what I learned.
As a lover of words, a writer, a poet, a conversational wizard =] It might be hard to believe that I find language a hindrance. Communication is limited by the limitation of words. Could you describe, in words, the feeling you get when you’re in love? We’ve tried for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years to do that, but some would argue that words just can’t describe such a powerful emotion. We do our best to compare it to other things. What about a crazy dream? How many times have you tried to explain the emotional content of a dream, only to reiterate that your explanation isn’t doing it justice? Or an event that you end up saying, “You just had to be there.” Because sometimes time and space play a role in the feeling.
If you’re still not convinced, what about a psychedelic trip? Anyone who has ever tripped on a heavy does of mushrooms or LSD will tell you that words can’t describe that. Or what about the concept of ‘nothingness.’ If there was nothing, no space, no stars, no us, just nothing, what would that look like? You can’t say clear, because that’s something, you can’t say black, that’s something. The moment you try to describe it, you’re using a “something” to describe a “nothing,” which is something! Confused? Me too.
If language wasn’t limited than text messages would never be misinterpreted. There would be a clear way to right something that get’s a message across with a specific emotion. Emojis do their best to fill the gaps between language and feelings, but it isn’t perfect. What does this have to do with a vow of silence? Oh yeah, that’s what we were talking about.
Before language, people still communicated. Their ideas were probably more simplistic, or maybe not, I wouldn’t know, but we got our message across some how. I don’t think that it was just a system of grunts that we imagine the stereotypical caveman to use. I think that we had more intuition, like animals, and could pick up vibes better. There’s a reason we say things like “trust your gut,” or “go with your instincts.” It’s a real sense that we have. Have you ever walked into a room and just thought, “Nope.” and left, only to find out later that something bad happened there? What about meeting people. Sometimes you get a bad vibe from a stranger and can’t really pin point why. Has it ever happened to you that people like that person but you don’t, and eventually they turn out to be bad and others are like “Wow, I don’t believe it, I always thought they were so nice.” And you’re just sitting there like, “Nah, I never liked them, always got a bad vibe.”
Stuff like that, I feel, can be strengthened by not speaking. Just looking at someone, in the eyes, and trying to communicate through intentions, rather than words. I’m sure it will be confusing and fun all at the same time, but If there is just one moment that someone completely gets me, without me saying a word, then it would be a successful experiment. If nothing else, I just wonder what I’ll learn by observing others more since I wouldn’t be participating in the dialogue.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.” – No idea who originally wrote it, but I saw this quote way back in high school on my English teacher’s chalk board.