If you read the first draft of anything I’ve written, it becomes painfully clear I write like I speak. Fortunately, I speak well (thanks, speech coaches). More fortunately, I can always re-write (thanks, Microsoft Word). Speaking out has been part of my life since I was in 9th grade and Mrs. Villalba got tired of listening to me argue that the poison used in Romeo and Juliet was actually a symbol of the poisonous lack of forgiveness which caused the family feud (a position I still believe). She took me (literally took my hand and walked me) to the debate coach and to whom she said, “Here’s the one for you.”
Years of debates, presentations, sermons, and stories later – I’m still talking. My adult life has been a fantastical journey in the jungle of other people’s communication using my sword/tongue to cut away the thorns of academic obfuscation, the dead leaves of prejudice, the bitter dry soil of self-righteous, pretentious leaders and the comment section weevils eating the truth with made-up facts. I have slayed dragons, lost battles and laid down my weapons at the feet of “agree to disagree.” In short, I was exhausted.
Then one day, I came to a magical oasis with crystal springs of refreshing clarity, hammocks rocked gently in the breeze between many viewpoints, and lush gardens of fragrant discourse. I had reached the Meadow of Shut Up. At first I was afraid. What would I do if I wasn’t talking? Wouldn’t I cease to exist if I didn’t immediately add my voice to the fray? In the 24 hour-always-on news cycle, if I waited to form an intelligent, considered opinion – the topic would be over by the time I was ready to speak! The Meadow of Shut Up was inviting and I was so tired, I decided to give it a try. There are some wonderful reasons to be quiet:
It makes you feel.
Listening to what others have to say without thinking of what you want to say in response is one of the bravest, most frightening things you can do. Because if you aren’t busy measuring their thoughts on the scale of right/wrong or looking for the weak link to break into their logic, you will experience actual feelings about what they are saying. The topic may make you sad. The way they say it may make you angry, or happy. The fact you are having the discussion at all may elate you, or hurt your feelings.
I know, I know…feelings? Sounds horrible. But once they start – even the unpleasant ones – you begin to change the way you see things and things begin to change the way you see. It’s worth it. I promise.
It makes you think.
Most people like to think they think a lot. But the truth is – thinking isn’t the act of pondering something in your head while constantly re-confirming your own opinion. Thinking is taking in NEW data and constructing ideas around it, leaving room for change when more, confirming or denying data comes into view. Listening to someone else’s experience or ideas gives you so many more building blocks for the castles of thought you live in.
I know, I know…that’s so much effort. But the way you can understand, re-imagine, create and infuse your life with the world around you is wondrous.
It connects you.
Buddhist believe that we have all the wisdom and knowledge already inside of us. Thus when we encounter or hear something outside of us, the inner knowledge connects to its outer counter-part. That’s how we have those “ah-ha!” moments where we hear something new but we know instantly it is the truth – or our truth – as the case may be. That is part of the basis of Namaste – the divine in me honors the divine in you. We are connected. When you listen to others you find more things you both know – even if you are approaching it from different angles.
I can’t say I spend loads of time in the Meadow of Shut Up. It is still somewhat new and a little odd-feeling to me. But my rest here – listening to others, reading news from international perspectives, touching my own heart – before rejoining the speaking world has benefited me a great deal.
Maybe, if I’m lucky, some of you will join me – and before we call out, speak truth, dialogue justice and cry havoc – we can all shut up, together.