in silence

in silence

The other day, D asked me if every sound can be expressed using letters of the alphabet. And I promptly answered yes. Surely, we have a letter or we can concoct a combination of letters to mimic every sound. That's what I thought at first, until I realised that no, the alphabets and sounds of any human language cannot reproduce every sound of nature truly and in its entirety.

What is the sound of waves crashing on the beach? How do we write in English or any other language the melody of birdsong?

What is the sound of breath? Do we describe it as a whoosh-whoosh? The inhale sounds so vastly different than an exhale, how do we spell out these sounds in a single word, let alone two distinct words capturing their subtle differences?

I love words. I love the beauty of language. I love words more than plot or story, although I do look for satisfying conclusions in the books I read. I love reading words that make me feel, that stir things in my heart. And I am certain this is why I write the way I do. With so much emphasis on emotions and feelings, on their beauty, with an aching and a longing for I-don't-really-know-what.

So it was a little sad to come back, yet again, to the realisation that words are really inadequate in communicating with another human being, especially when we have differing views on a subject. What begins as an objective discussion quickly becomes an impassioned exchange of words, so badly it is that we seek validation from each other, beggars reaching out to their kin for alms.

In my early days of parenting, I remember wanting to meet other moms and talking to them about my challenges. It quickly dawned upon me that such conversations typically end up with both parties trying to compete with each other on who has it harder. It is so hard for everyone that we refrain from offering empathy to the other person for fear of diminishing the incredible immensity of our own struggles in our own eyes.

I've found that the best people to talk to about the difficulties of parenting are those without children; they neither offer advice nor do they try to outdo your difficulties by throwing in some of their own. But then the trouble is when it is our turn to listen to them, we hear of all the adventures they've been on, child-free and frolicking across the globe, and that serves to add fuel to the fire.

What I really wanted in those days was someone to validate my experience. I wanted someone to tell me yes, it is hard, yes, it is fraught with anxiety and constant self-doubt, yes, it is unlike anything I've ever done before, no, there is no way to know if I'm doing the right thing or a good job or not, and no, no matter how much I do, I'll always feel as if I could/should have done a whole lot more.

Sadly, those were my answers to arrive at in hindsight. No one could have said those words to me, and even if they had, I'd most likely not have grabbed their import.

I digress, though.

In a few recent conversations I've had off late, I find it is truly difficult to set aside the desire to make ourselves heard and simply listen without acting upon the urge to judge or offer an opinion or pose a counter-opinion.

What if, instead of seeking validation from the external world, which is full of validation-seeking beggars anyway, I were to retreat into my breath, where there is no need for words, no chance of misinterpretation or taking/causing unintended offence?

What if, instead of wishing things/people were this way or that, I were to keep bringing my focus back to my breath and let life unfold around me, without any intervention on my part?

What if I could truly be an observer, and not feel afraid or ashamed of the smallness, of the invisibility of this role?

All this defies conventional wisdom, which says we need to be vocal and loud and clear and assertive, that we need to establish our brand, which, to me, sounds as if I need to sear an image of myself on another person so that I do not risk invisibility or disappearance into the realm of the forgotten?

But what if that is not at all what I want to do? I simply want to be myself. I've had years of experience of trying to be anyone else but me, anywhere else but here and now. But now I just want to be. Without any to-do lists, bucket lists, destinations to go, must-see places to visit, must-do things to accomplish ... without being constantly told what I should not miss out on in this once-in-a-lifetime life.

I simply want to be. In silence. Without fear of it being the wrong decision. Without judging it as a right or wrong decision to begin with. Without deeming it a waste of time. Without cursing myself for wanting this in the first place.

We have a tendency to think in terms of doing and not in terms of being. We think that when we are not doing anything, we are wasting our time. But that is not true. Our time is first of all for us to be. To be what? To be alive, to be peaceful, to be joyful, to be loving. And that is what the world needs the most. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh