Talking does us a lot of good. Talking out our problems, getting things out in the open. It helps me shake out the roots of my tightly knotted feelings most of the time, especially when the person I’m talking to (usually my mom), knows me well enough to read between the lines.
But I have a history of talking too much. I’ve always liked the sound of my own voice, ever since I was a kid. It’s a predisposition to the floweryness of your own prose, the idea that someone might be impressed at how precocious you are… it’s intoxicating for a kid.
But it’s perfectly obnoxious from an onlooker’s standpoint, and it’s important to calibrate our minds to the idea that sometimes – often – we’re better off standing back, shutting up, and listening.
That’s like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with words, it’s all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness.” –Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Part of my personal growth over the years that I’ve been devoting conscious effort to it – a large part – has been trying not to control everything. My tendency to fall all over myself to dominate a conversation is rooted in part in my desire to maintain control, not over other people, just over the interaction, with the idea that my comfort zone is less likely to result in embarrassment, discomfort, the unfamiliar.
A few disparate scenarios in my everyday have introduced me to the beauty of restraint, though. One has been writing tons of emails. I am always emailing clients and coworkers, and receiving their responses. Pretty standard. But emails are like mirrors. You press send and are suddenly faced with yourself in writing, no context. You see yourself at your most desperate, your most needy, your most terse. It’s great instant feedback for how you’re being perceived, if sometimes really uncomfortable.
Another has been my spiritual education through reading and meditating. There’s a lot of emphasis put on spending parts of your day in conscious silence. I’m not the type to tie a chalkboard around my neck so everyone knows I’m going through some psychedelic transformation, but I do really appreciate silence in the start and close of my day, and I seek sanctuary in it to ground myself periodically in between.
Still another has been my body’s unmistakable rejection for overstimulation over the years. As I move toward my thirties, my body has all new interesting and wicked ways of telling me to chill out. Chest tightness, migraines, nosebleeds, shin splints, neck and back pain, psoriasis. The culmination of all of these, as I am less and less able to ignore them, have handed down a clear message: Slow down, be quiet, listen.
I fight cynicism about noise. I feel like the Grinch sometimes (noise, noise, noise!) when I choose to seclude myself, not out of disinterest in conversation, but out of a sheer need to relieve myself from the friction and static of constant talking. So while I can’t always dismiss the noise itself, I can at least control my own polluting output, and I’m surprised every single day how many situations benefit me more when I choose to listen instead of opening my mouth to speak.
Quieting the mind, quieting the environment, exercising conscious silence, they take much more practice than it would seem, at least for me. But there is no other way I’ve yet found to feel your place in a situation, really settle into your thoughts, find the ways to cooperate with the universe’s rhythm (rather than forcing and fighting against it), than to persistently remind yourself: Anything uttered aloud is only half-true. The beauty of silence is that it’s certain.