silence-dalai-lamaSometimes it can be hard to find the words to describe how exactly we feel. The words may be deep inside, under layers of emotion and locked up in our bodies. Or the words are swirling around inside and need time to be processed. Or you may fear using the wrong words, saying something that will incite judgment or exact unintentional pain. Or words just seem inadequate… This year, and particularly following the presidential election, I’ve heard many usually articulate friends struggle with their words.

I have had a particularly hard time when it comes to engaging with family members about the elections. The correspondence or conversations feel heavy and fraught. They frighten me.

In these moments, sitting in silence can be a useful first step. “Alone in silence, we create space to listen to our emotions, to hear our inner dialogue, and hopefully find some truth. Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to our selves,“ writes poet Gunilla Norris. Silence helps us to locate ourselves and hopefully from there discover the courage to speak and to listen.

As we gather around Thanksgiving tables and then head home for the winter holiday, we will likely find ourselves facing friends, family members and others who hold beliefs we don’t comprehend. It may be hard to know what to say to each other and how to respond when we, or they, get triggered. What to do? Silence offers an unusual solution.

You might consider intentionally using silence in these ways:

  • Start your gatherings with a moment of silence. Beginning in this way might set an intention for slowing down and paying attention to each other in a different way.
  • Pause before reacting to others, particularly if you feel hooked. Pausing creates the space for you to feel your own reaction and the opportunity to listen to others.
  • Experiment with sitting together in silence. Present a question, dilemma or hope to your group and ask them to sit in silence and reflect for 5-10 minutes. You can end the silence with some shared reflection if you like but encourage people to speak only if they can improve upon the silence (an old Quaker saying).

Reflecting on collective silence, Gunilla Norris writes, “Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act. When we can stand aside from the usual and perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen. Our lives align with deeper values and the lives of others are touched and influenced.” Sitting together, in the absence of words, might allow undercover emotions to surface and create the space for greater connection and compassion.

Words are powerful, but in our word-heavy world, silence may in fact be even more impactful.

This article was inspired by Parker Palmer’s work and his blog on silence found here.