Can we truly understand another person? Her suffering, her fear, her aloness? When we say “I understand” or touch her elbow gently, can we offer her more than an emphatic response?
We have words and facial expressions. We have eyes and ears and patience. We have writing and phones. We have blog posts.
But is it through words and images or through silence that we can retreat together into a nest of understanding, where we are safe from the constant noise our mind makes?
Not the silence of not knowing what to say. Or the silence of not raising objections. But the silence of taking it all in, the good and the bad. It’s a silence that requires a conscious effort. It calls for willful patience and concentrated attention.
It’s a silence that you must alertly maintain, otherwise it can easily slip into disapproval or boredom. Because nobody is ever entirely right, no matter how passionate they may be about what they are saying. Not even the people closest to us, our mothers and our lovers.
Every noise, however intense, gets swallowed by the silence eventually. Silence has that power, to hug everything around it and hold on to it. To make it disappear.
To listen to people talk about their problems is to help them heal. Most of us have too many problems of our own and are too distracted to listen deeply. So we listen with one ear while labeling and categorizing what we hear and, at the same time, preparing a reply.
That is a noisy way of listening. It may let words and ideas in, but not the underlying emotional intensity, the wordless past, the indescribable sorrow.
“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” — Diogenes
Opening yourself before another person and taking it all in, even if it’s unwell for you, can be something wonderful. It’s the opposite of not paying attention, of criticizing, of contradicting.
Flowers do it when they open up before the sun. To let in that wonderful light they may have to put up with some dust and wind and flies. But it is through that opening that they become closest to the sun, that they become one with it, for a little while.