Listen in Silence

When I’m blissfully alone, immersed in a project or taking a delicious nap, I’m sometimes shocked to realize that I have chosen silence, at least for a while. No book, newspaper, computer screen or magazine has been visually consulted in at least an hour. No music, television, advice or questions from anyone have disturbed my solitude of being. Aside from the rhythmic tick- tock of a wall clock, the occasional thump of new ice in the freezer or the irrepressible ding of the washing machine announcing a finished cycle, I’ve succeeded in editing irrelevant sights and sounds out of my moments.

I ask myself, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you wonder about the weather, want to call a friend or long to hear your favorite song?” I respond, “Not really, because what does sound do to my options for spending time? It distracts, entertains and sometimes enlightens, but it also allows me to avoid priorities and thoughts that if allowed to rise freely, will bring insights.” So I sit in silence to wait for those gifts of calm wisdom; the kind so elusive when sounds compete for attention.

In my interviews with story subjects, I also relish silence. It’s the opportunity for a person to reflect upon a question without coaching, interruption or pressure. It’s soothing to give ourselves and others patience for thoughts, allowing them to surface, be processed and find expression. Sometimes, my clients will say, “Why do you take so much time with me?” or “How can you do the tedious work of listening?” I say, “It is the best way that I can think of to use my time.” My most recent client paid me the highest compliment when he said, “Thank you for telling my story just as I gave it to you—from the heart.”

We cannot connect with our insides or those of others without silence.  Peppering our psyche with outside noise keeps us superficial, reactive and even stressed. Learning what’s vital, either for ourselves or for others, demands listening long, deeply and with a commitment to knowing.

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