“Nothing at all. Silence. That’s the gift I’d offer,” shared a former executive who participated in the Research Jam last spring. We were talking about creating a gift bag for women just beginning transition. Silence came up again and again during our conversation. She also shared a question that she’d grappled with early on in her transition, “Who am I if I’m not me?” For her silence served as a catalyst to answering that question. What is your relationship with silence? Is it an unaffordable luxury? A welcome guest?
This interview wasn’t the only time silence was referenced in the Research Jam. For example, some respondents shared a concern that they may have ended their transition ‘too early’ because of a discomfort or anxiety related to silence. Others offered a perspective on the difficulty of identifying passions because they’d silenced that voice for so long. Has silence played a role for you?
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled by chance upon Summer Book Review #31: “Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence,” by Anne D. LeClaire. The book chronicles LeClaire’s 17 year journey during which she chooses not to speak on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month. She is a Cape Cod based writer so her silent Mondays served as intense work days…and quite a bit more.
The book was an easy read and pretty engaging for those in transition. I enjoyed it. LeClaire starts out by offering readers a way to think about silence. Some are disarming. For example since you started reading this post have you considered that silence can be used as a form of power or control? The author referenced eastern cultures where women are silenced as part of oppressive regimes. (Below the Noise, pg 83) She also shared that her own childhood home used silence as a form of cruelty. (Below the Noise, pg 59+)
Many of these characterizations are introduced so that the author can set aside those profiles of silence that don’t align with her meditation practice. She relies instead on silence for its role in creating a pathway to listen to oneself.
For her, silence was a, “place of restoration and reflection, where I would birth creativity, stretch personal boundaries, and expand awareness. ” (Below the noise, pg 14) LeClaire believes wholeheartedly that silence is a critical tool in self-awareness, “It is stopping and paying attention that awakens us.” (Below the noise, pg 126)
Here are a few things to think about for those entering or in transition:
- Is silence a fear response?: Have you ever silenced yourself for fear of not being correct? “Some use silence as a form of shame, we remain silent for fear of not being correct or (for fear) to be judged. (Below the Noise, pg 101) What would you do if you could remove silence as a fear response? Would you dream different dreams?
- Are silence and isolation linked? LeClaire offers, “we harbor self-generated fears that to be alone means we will be isolated, separate, excluded. Lonely.” (Below the Noise, 171) Are your thoughts on silence related to such fears? Mine were. Early in my transition I wrote a blog post in which I stated, “My greatest fear in entering a transition was isolation. Now, a few months into this, let me say that I had it all wrong.” (Isolation?, May 2011) Early in my transition silence allowed me to understand that my 7×24 tech-enabled global role and two young children successfully isolated me from everything…even myself.
- Silence, even in limited quantities, can be powerful. If you’re like me I scoff at someone being able to have 2 days per month to reflect. Lucky. Rare. After reading LeClaire’s book I’m not sure quantity is a driver. Do you have 15 minutes once a week? Once a month? It may be worth reflecting on a few key questions. LeClaire asks, “What is the cost of not following your heart’s desire? (Below the Noise, pg 19+) She adds, “If you can sit still so much comes to you…” (Below the Noise, pg 135)
I’m thankful for stumbling onto LeClaire’s book and the notion of silence shared with me by so many women via the Research Jam. I think silence is like ambition. A word that is often used but little understood.
I agree with my interviewee. I’d put silence in the magic gift bag for a woman just starting transition. It is empowering and energizing and scary. Maybe there is one additional tool, in addition to silence, that I’d add. It’s a question to accompany silence……Are you ready to listen to what you might hear?
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