To hear, one must be silent. Ursula K. Le Guin
I have been exploring the power of silent spaces within conversation. I find that typically, whoever is speaking usually assumes a place of responsibility, or higher contribution, within the conversation. I am curious about how silence can shift this presumed responsibility. In a conversation, there is a palpable energy that passes between two people. Most often, the energy is an external energy, manifesting as action or reaction. In this outward energetic manifestation, there is little that is actually penetrating deep within. When we are caught up in this energy, it is common to not really remember what one said, or what was heard in a conversation. This is a dynamic I see a lot between couples, or between parents and their children. However, when we introduce silent pauses, the tension moves from being an external process to an internal process; and this is the place that magic happens. When people pause and allow for silences, they begin to welcome this process more frequently and a deeper internal conversation results. Growth, then, can manifest in so many ways.
When we are communicating with loved ones, there is an opportunity for graciousness. When we love someone, it is a powerful gift to offer grace. By grace I mean the conscious decision to assume that the person in front of you is doing the best that they can do with the resources they have in the moment. It is not a perfect practice; it is always imperfect. However, offering them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can, given the stress they feel, given their bruised heart, given their sleepless night, is making room for love.
I have discovered that without graciousness and silence, there is little growth. It seems like it is the melding of those two elements that manifests the greatest potential. When our minds are busy, when our words are urgent, there is little introspection. At these times, we are tapping into a well-worn unconscious pattern within us. However, when we pause and allow room for introspection through silence, a new option arises. When we offer grace to the present moment, we see the person in front of us as the person we love, not the one who has hurt us unintentionally.
So where are the opportunities that can invite an opening into a different dynamic? It can be a pause before answering. Instead of responding with the first thought that comes into your mind, you could alternatively pause and reflect on, “what is the most important thing I would like to say right now, to this person?” This is the silence that invites intentionality. It is easy to forget the power of intentional communication in place of communication based on what we feel.
There is also the pause that makes room for someone else’s process. It is the pause that makes room for the other person to think, to create and, to own their own thoughts. I find that many times we speak, we are trying to convince people of our point of view, our legitimacy. Much of our energy is spent on secretly building our defenses because we know when our listener speaks, they might disagree. If there were more silences, we would be graciously giving our loved one the gift of truly free speech without energy being wasted in fitting our armour. I wonder what would shift if the person either listening or speaking was no longer putting energy into convincing. Where would that energy get funneled into? Perhaps into clarifying their own thought process.
Another layer underneath all of these opportunities for silence is the possibility to release judgement. When we are faced with the opportunity to allow silence and to notice someone’s goodness, we can’t help but face the judgment that lurks beneath the surface. When we are quiet and evaluative, introspective and warm, there is space for discovery of whatever unconscious fear we hold. I wonder if that is the place that holds the greatest potential for healing. Without the busyness of words, without reactions and defenses, there is the pure, innocent, and powerful space for untapped potential. There exists the potential to release judgements of others, but most importantly, the judgements we hold of self.