Monday, January 10, 2005

Strength Does Exist in Silence

"Strength Exists in Silence" by Timothy McClellan

I have this painting on my wall, and its meaning has taken a while to reveal itself to me. When I first told someone the title, she disagreed with what she inferred as its meaning. She was in a social justice mindset, and silence about the world's injustices equals oppression and stagnation and death in many cases.

Years ago, my sister had a roommate who couldn't endure a moment of silence. She kept her radio or TV playing at all hours—even as she slept. I think the constant sound and influx of information kept her from having to face herself.

When I first met my son's dad, I told him, "I'm so tired of telling my first-date story. Could we just sit here in silence for a while?" I started to love him when he smiled and said yes.

The Quakers, of whom my uncle was one, and with whom I've sat a handful of times, join in silence every First Day (Sunday) and sit together in silence. It sounds like nothing, and yet it's a powerful thing, this silence. For me, it draws my energy inward and in a way I can imagine the collective energy in the room quietly whooshing upward as the energy of others is similarly focused. Literally uplifting.

Recently some friends were discussing the merits of remaining silent. Keeping one's grand plans to oneself. Not allowing the energy of one's plans to be dispersed through idle chatter about the plan, leaving no energy for the execution of the plan.

Some people would probably argue with this. When I took a slightly controversial three-day seminar (the Forum, based on est, but not quite as kooky) a few years ago, the coaches advocated sharing one's thoughts, plans, etc. with others in an effort to make them "real." We spent hours taking turns in front of the microphone, spilling our guts and sharing our goals, and I enjoyed this part of the weekend (although it was a complicated experience and I think my money could've been better spent elsewhere).

There is strength in sharing information. For one thing, how else would we know we're not alone in our suffering and joy unless we're privy to others' experiences?

But some of us, and I do include myself, spend a lot of energy on the telling...and not enough on the doing. Sometimes after I've told a bunch of people about my plans, I have no juice left over for executing the plan. I'm exhausted from the telling.

Occasionally I've found that sharing information with the wrong people has devastating effects. I've had the horrific experience of having my dreams and missteps exaggerated, exposed and documented for review by a judge who had the power to decide how much time I get to spend with my son.

All I can say is thank God for savvy judges.

But most of the time it's fun to tell, tell, tell about what I want to do. It's fun to imagine it. It's fun to shop for it (!) when necessary. It's just not always fun to do it. Maybe that's because I can be one hundred percent successful in my verbal descriptions of my plans, and my executed plans often fall short of what I envisioned. Perhaps I forget to choose to enjoy the doing. Perhaps I shoot too high. Perhaps I don't give myself a break.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not huddled in a corner, babbling to the air about my plans. I do stuff. Sometime I'll take a picture of my craft table and post it. I wish I could take a picture of the inside of my head to show you. There is Stuff goin' on. But I have more to accomplish than a stream of decoupaged boxes and tiny watercolors. I have articles to write, a house to clean, walks to take, a life to redirect.

When I do catch myself shying away from a project, I try to treat myself the way I treat my son. I gently remind myself that perfection is boring. I remind myself to breathe and try to stay open to surprise outcomes. I put in the time and enthusiasm and see what happens. Sometimes this works.

Today I responded to another blogger's request to be kicked in the ass. I told her the things I tell myself: Much of the time, inspiration happens after you start—not before.

Focus the energy on the task at hand, and not on the telling about it.