Silence.... the word comes to us through the Old English swige and Old French silence meaning "the absence of sound," thence from the Latin verb silentium meaning "the state of being without sound" and the Latin verb infinitive silere meaning "to be still and (or) tranquil". I could happily have traced the origins of the word all the way back to the beginning times, but found myself halted and wondering at silere, still curious about the word's roots but beguiled by its easy kinship with rest and repose.
As a species, we are nourished by notions of stillness and mute tranquility. The songs, stories and tales which are such rich and poignant expressions of the human tribe are exquisite when we see them in their entirety, but other things come to light when we look closely at their elements, at individual words and the spaces between the words. Words and the spaces between them are little works of art or theater, tiny plays or compositions, each descriptive of a feeling or perception, a physical sensation, an encounter, an interaction with other beings or with existence itself. Spaces don't separate the words - they join the words like lacquered beads on a long silken cord.
Silence and mythology are closely interwoven, for the word mythology has its roots in the Greek mythos, meaning to speak or to relate something, and not just in the written or spoken sense. The etymological roots of the word mythology are shared with other words connoting silence, wordlessness and the inability to speak. In other words, what we are not hearing or saying is as important as what we are hearing or saying. Our silences are as meaningful and as expressive as our conversations, and often more so, the spaces between the words as eloquent as the words themselves can ever be. There is a profound causal relationship between what we communicate in words and what we do not (or cannot) communicate in words, and silences can be liminal and transforming.
There is the silence between one gust of wind and the next, between icicles and the rising sun, the incandescent interval at twilight when the descending illuminates a melt pool in the park, turning water and reflected trees to gold while one stands nearby open-mouthed and staring. There are the sunless winter days I write about sometimes, when one can actually hear snow falling among the trees or on the old Buddha out on the veranda. Some silences are interstitial. There is the eloquent space between one bead on a mala or rosary and the next, the space between two words in a tale or narrative — the quiet mindful expanse between the opening chime of the meditation bell and the one which closes our fumbling meditations.
Silences are songs, prayers, benedictions, and there are far too few of them about. There are times when we need to be able to hear ourselves think — or better still, not think at all — just show up and BE right there in the moment. In our small intentional silences, we dwell (however briefly) in mindfulness and infinite possibility. It's all good, and one of these days, I shall put those words on a t-shirt.
February 8, 2013
resting easy in friday rambles