This week's word comes to us through the Old English swige and Old French silence, thence the Latin silentium and 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 pausing and wondering at silere, still curious about the word's roots, but engaged by its easy kinship with rest and repose.
As a species, we are nourished by notions of stillness and tranquility. Examined in their entirety, our songs and stories are eloquent expressions of our tribal wanderings, but other things come to light when we look closely at individual words and the spaces between the words. Both are little works of art or theater, tiny plays or compositions descriptive of a moment or feeling, a physical sensation, and encounter, a dialogue with other beings or with existence itself. Spaces don't separate words - they join the words like lacquered spacers connecting the beads on a silken cord.
Silence and mythology are closely interwoven - 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. Silences are as meaningful and as expressive as conversations, and often more so, the spaces between as vibrant and eloquent as the bookending 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.
Silences are complete within themselves, liminal and transforming.There is silence between one gust of wind and the next, between icicles and the rising sun. There is silence in incandescent intervals at sunset when the falling light illuminates melt pools in the park, turning water and reflected trees to gold as one stands nearby, breathless and staring. There are the sunless winter days I sometimes write about when I can hear snow falling among the trees or coming to rest on the old Buddha out on the deck. All silences are interstitial - the eloquent distances between one bead on a mala and the next, the spaces between two words in a tale or narrative, the mindful expanse between the opening chime of the meditation bell and that which closes our fumbling meditations.
Sometimes, we need to be able to hear ourselves think—or better still, not think—just show up and BE right there. In our small intentional silences, we dwell (however briefly) in mindfulness, connection and infinite possibility. It's all good, and one of these days, I am going to put those words on a t-shirt.