The Silence of Madame

Do not speak unless it improves on silence.
~ Buddha

I am a woman of words.

Which means I know how to use them well - to heal - and I know how to use them poorly - to hurt. And I do both.

But for a long time now, I have been wanting to be in silence. I guess, since words are so important to me, it seemed apt that I would want to take a vow of silence to explore wordlessness. Every year, as I transfer my life's to-do list to a new page, I have kept this 10-day silent meditation retreat on the list. I've never known why I have wanted to do it, but I've always known that I have wanted to do it. This year, instead of waiting to get it together and sign up for the retreat, I thought maybe even just one day of silence could work. And maybe after one day, I could try two, and then three, and who knows... maybe one day make it out to that retreat for ten.

So when the new year rolled around and I was writing down the things I hoped to undertake this year, I kept Silence on the list. And one day last month, I decided January 31st would be my first attempt at a day of silence. So much happened in the two weeks prior to my Silent Day that I almost thought I wouldn't go through with it. But it seemed apt that in all the fuss, I would take this time to be in silence with myself.

I looked at it as an opportunity to reflect on the past month; to realign myself with my goals for the next month; to take some time away from the everyday bombardment of communication; and to hopefully learn something.

The night before the big day, I wrote myself a little note that said "Today, I am in silence." and carried that little piece of paper in my pocket throughout the day.

I can't say being in silence was hard, but it was different. For one, people still tried to communicate with me, which made it a bit frustrating since I couldn't communicate back. And within the first few hours, I began wondering why I was doing this. Somehow, I felt I was missing the point.

But then, in the afternoon, as someone was speaking to me and I was listening, they said something incorrect. I wanted to correct them, but not being able to talk, I couldn't. The conversation went on without a hitch, and that's when it dawned on me:

It didn't matter if I corrected them. It didn't matter if I had the right answer. In the grand scheme of inconsequential things, what I said or didn't say right then didn't actually matter. And I realized that most of the things we think we need to say - we don't.

But more importantly, most of the things that actually matter, we never even say.

And worse yet are the meaningful things left unsaid that we can no longer say.

Further into the day, I found myself noticing the sarcastic remarks I might have said but that remained muted on my tongue, and realized that it was better to not have said anything at all.

Benjamin Franklin said: "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

I sure hadn't been doing that in my life.

There is a French saying along the same lines that goes: "tourner sept fois la langue dans la bouche," which translates to "turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking." 

What I found was that in my life, I wasn't turning my tongue even once. I was giving in to temptation and saying anything that came to mind - sometimes even things I didn't really want or need to say. I wasn't thinking before I spoke - I was just reacting. I realized that there have been a lot of words I wish I had never said, and so many more I wish I had.

And I think that's an affliction most of us face. We just say what comes to us. We say things that don't matter. We say things we wish we could take back. We even make it a point to say things we know we shouldn't. We don't think before we speak.

And we also don't focus our energy on saying the things that do matter, the things that make a difference, the things that lift us and others up.

And who knows when we won't be able to say those things any longer.

In my life, I don't want to regret the things I said or the things I didn't say. But I want to be aware of both before I decide. And so I realized that I would like to cultivate silence in my life, and take a moment before I speak. 

I cut short my day of silence in the evening. I felt I had learned what I needed to for that day. And after it was done, I wanted to make sure that when I spoke again, I would be improving on the silence.

And so for the rest of the night, I didn't have much to say.

Can you hold your tongue at a tempting moment? 
Let me know how you felt afterwards.

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