There are a hundred who plunge into the waters of the ocean for pleasure or profit, to only one who dives for the pearl of great price. The latter does his work in the secrecy of silence.
— Bahman Pestonji Wadia (1881-1958)
I have come to believe that our Western emphasis on intellect, analysis and the mighty mind, rather than being an asset, is often a handicap. I am fortunate to travel in social circles with people who are astonishingly smart, articulate and creative in wordy ways. And I, myself, admittedly also aspire to this. But I am beginning to suspect that those kinds of brilliance, as important as they are in some ways, ultimately hamper our understanding and knowledge of who we are.
I have observed that one of the last socially acceptable forms of arrogance and bigotry is that of “intelligence.” Few of us question what that actually means, and fewer consider that “intelligence” may be only an arbitrary, possibly meaningless description. Perhaps it is no more important to the truth of our identity than the color of our skin, our age, or our gender.
I have also noticed how “intelligence” and intellect frequently interfere with magic. Have you ever been at a concert where the music had swept you to realms of rapture, only to overhear the people behind you discussing the performer’s technique, or how they heard a better rendition last year, or analyzing the merits of the composer’s earlier works? Perhaps that is how some people believe they are “enjoying” the music – by processing it through the data banks, and sparring with one another over the breadth of their knowledge.
But I wonder.
We have made it seem natural and admirable to have constant analysis and commentary of every single aspect of our lives. We give one another verbal validation or criticism. We process our experiences with words, and verbalization has been inextricably linked to what defines us as the intelligent apes.
Yet the power of silence cannot be overstated. So, I have suggested perhaps spending some time exploring intentional silence. There are many ways to try this.
Obviously, you could spend several hours, or even a whole day, refusing to speak at all. Say, this weekend when you are not at work, where such a thing would probably be impossible. But will you, then, communicate through writing notes? Does this affect what you have intended about this work?
Another possibility is what writer B.P. Wadia calls deliberate speech, which consciously cultivates the “occult significance of silence.” You may find this easier, or more difficult than a complete moratorium on speaking. As he notes, “A vow of silence does not mean to become mute and not to speak at all.”
The first three steps he suggests are the “self-imposition of periodic silence,” in order to learn to control our talkative impuslses. Next, he recommends “not indulging at any time in injurious and untruthful speech.” And finally, he urges us to resist all speech that is useless or unnecessary.
And there is more, which I’ll share with you next week!