“Linguists say that language comes after music
and we sang nonsense syllables
before we invented a rational speech
to order our days.”
~ Jim Harrison
"I have a very hard time with things, you know, just being quiet. Like, if I sit alone, you know, for ten minutes with nothing happening, you know, which I guess some people would call meditating, I just lose my mind. I'm, like — how does anyone deal with this horrible silence and awareness that everything's almost over?"
~ Marc Maron
How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name.
In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there?
~ John O'Donohue
"I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn't meant to be anyone's conscience because I still had to figure out being my own, so sometimes I just wouldn't say anything, appeasing ignorance with my silence." ~ Clint Smith
by Robert Penn Warren
There are many things in the world and you
Are one of them. Many things keep happening and
You are one of them, and the happening that
Is you keeps falling like snow
On the landscape of not-you, hiding hideousness, until
The streets and the world of wrath are choked with snow.
How many things have become silent? Traffic
Is throttled. The mayor
Has been, clearly, remiss and the city
Was totally unprepared for such a crisis. Nor
Was I yes, why should this happen to me?
I have always been a law abiding citizen.
But you, like snow, like love, keep falling,
And it is not certain that the world will not be
Covered in a glitter of crystalline whiteness.
Robert Penn Warren reads his poem "Love Recognized"
"There's a thing when we're children we experience. It usually exists in libraries and it's called the hush. Like this magic world called Hush. There's not many places now to find hush. Somethimes I really do think if every person would experience hush—even if they almost have to force it on themselves for a while—just the bird, just the wind, nothing else, hush—there would be less violence."
Most days, I get into the neighborhood pool by 8:30 a.m. Even when there’s frost on the ground, the water is warm. Unless you’re the lifeguard, blowing the whistle when you want me to get out, I don’t know you exist. For 60 blessed minutes and 3,200 yards, I’m my only audience.
There’s nothing to look at, once the goggles fog over. Sound? The sloshing of water pretty much cancels out everything else. Taste and smell are largely of the chlorine and salt variety (though, at my old pool, I used to smell burgers cooking from the cafe downstairs). Despite all the tech advances of the last few years, you won’t see many swimmers wearing earphones or bone-conduction music devices: They just don’t work that well.
We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too...
For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising...
The enforced solitude is at odds with where we are as a culture. Our gyms are full of televisions tuned to SportsCenter and cable news. We’re tethered to our devices, even at bedtime. With that pervasive lack of self-control, who has the willpower to turn off technology for any meaningful period of time? I submit: Sliding into the water is the easiest way to detach from your phone.
See also: Creswell, J. D., Bursley, J. K., & Satpute, A. B. (January 01, 2013). Neural reactivation links unconscious thought to decision-making performance. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(8), 863-9. http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/8/863.short
In the Library
by Charles Simic, from Sixty Poems
There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered
The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.
Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.
She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
Some time in your day today, try to turn off all the noises you can around you, and give yourself some "quiet time."
In the silence, let yourself think about something. Or if possible. . . think about nothing.
~ Fred Rogers
by James Tate
The snow visits us,
taking little bits of us with it,
to become part of the earth,
an early death and an early return—
like the filing of tax forms.
And all you can say after adding up
column after column: “I’m not myself.”
And all you can say after the long night
of searching for one certain scrap of paper:
“It never existed.”
And when all the lamps are lit
and the smell of the stew
has followed you upstairs
and slipped under the door of your study:
“The lute is telling the story
of the life I might have lived,
had I not—”
In my study, which is without heat,
in mid-January, in the hills
of a northern province—only
the thin white-haired volumes
of poetry speak, quietly, like
unfed birds on a night visit
to a cat farm. And an airplane is lost
in a storm of fitting pins.
The snow falls, far into the interior.
I went to a Quaker high school in Washington, Sidwell Friends School, and we had meeting for worship once a week. It was, I don't know, 45 minutes or something like that of sitting together in silence and, when moved to speak, people would speak. It didn't happen very often. And then around graduation, everyone would get up and cry and that was the speaking.
There was always one teacher who spoke and, as slightly cynical teenagers, we weren't going to speak. But nonetheless, the quiet was very important. I even understood that then. But more importantly, the perhaps three minutes of silence with which we began the day, I cherished that then. That overrode all teenage restless silliness. I knew that that moment of inner listening would have analogs throughout the day, if you know what I mean.
That sort of chunk — and right now you can't see me because we're on the radio, but I'm holding my fingers together in a little rectangle. You know, so like, that chunk that smaller than a brick-sized chunk of contemplative silence with which to simply listen and take stock would be something that I would need to call on throughout the day. I think that's a very, very important way to be able to go through life. And I think that poetry can provide those kinds of chunks.
You know, right before the inaugural, the day before, there was a sound check and the sound guy asked me to — you know, the microphone. Oh, my goodness, just this amazing instrument, this finely calibrated, you know, kind of the Hope diamond of microphones — so he said, "OK, why don't you say some poetry" — that was his phrase, say some poetry — "so we can see how it works on the mic." And the day before, Washington was full of people. People were already coming to the inaugural and the mall was quite full with lots of folks, and it was just me up on the stage and no one was looking at me. And I recited one of my favorite poems, Gwendolyn Brooks' "Kitchenette Building," which starts out:
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."
And then I continued with the poem which asks about could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday's garbage ripening in the halls? It's extraordinary, beautiful, tiny, tiny sonnet. And let me tell you, hundreds of people literally stopped in their tracks to hear this unknown-to-them person recite a poem by someone unknown no doubt to most of them. And these hundreds of people, I watched them sort of gather in a darkening sort of cluster and then, when the poem was over, they clapped. In other words, they knew it was something about the form of the poem, right?
I didn't say who I was or what I was doing or ask for their attention. The poem asked for their attention inherently. And the poem is about people in Chicago. She's describing poor people in the 1940s living in these kitchenette apartments, under really difficult circumstances trying to find a way to imagine something else, something beautiful. It's about a very important topic that transcends time and space. You know, how can the imagination and the spirit lift us above our quotidian difficulties.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man".
But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
"Part of the process we used is called stretch and stipple. You actually need four hands, not two, because you want to hold the skin, paint it, and then use a blow dryer -- on cool so you don't bake him -- to speed up the process. But you actually need four hands. But also you make it efficient and speedy, but we had to learn how to do it together so that there wasn't a feeling of two hands on the face moving separately from each other rather than in conjunction.
If you think of the difference between a massage and two people having a go separately, how that would feel. That's really distracting. So we actually practiced. It's rather like some strange, hip-hop handshake is the only way I can describe it. Doing a make-up simultaneously.
And of course we were in silence, so we mouthed to each other -- eyes, mouth -- you know, just mouthing it...To be perfectly honest, I actually quite like making up people in silence, if I'm really truthful. And fortunately, with Daniel, that is what he liked. So we dovetailed. I don't want to sound pretentious, but the only way I can describe it, is when your hands are working on a face, after a period of time, it's as if the intention of what you're doing has left you -- and the thought process -- and the hands [are] doing it by themselves. So you lose yourself in it. So someone asks you a question, you're sort of broken from it. And it's really hard then to find where you were and begin again. "
A mime stands upon a gallows for a crime he
did not do. When given a last chance to speak
he remains true to his art.
A crowd of hundreds has gathered to see his
last performance, knowing he will not talk.
The mime takes from the sky the circle of bright
spheres, lays them on a table, expressing deep
love for the companionship and guidance they
See also: One Remembers
"Verbalizing is not the only way our lives speak, of course. They speak through our actions and reactions, our intuitions and instincts, our feelings and bodily states of being, perhaps more profoundly than through our words. We are like plants, full of tropisms that draw us toward certain experiences and repel us from others. If we can learn to read our own responses to our own experiences — a text we are writing unconsciously every day we spend on earth — we will receive the guidance we need to live more authentic lives."
~ Parker J. Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation