I used to want to speak louder. To be more vocal, more often. To have the ability to let words tumble out of my mouth with the ease I saw in others.
Speaking often felt painful. Not physically so, but in some internal, energetic way. The words spun and twisted inside me, becoming larger and larger with each turn until they tumbled forth, unkempt and unpolished. Every syllable hurt my critical ears. I sounded ridiculous. And I was sure no one was listening anyways.
Every shy person knows the struggle to speak. For me, that struggle came in two flavors. One occurred when I knew what I wanted to say but the words were blocked by my unease. The second came when I felt I should have something to say but didn’t. The latter feeling arose most often in the presence of what we tend to call “small talk”.
It took years to melt the walls that blocked my voice. Believing in what I had to say helped, believing it was important regardless of the level of polish it might carry when uttered. I have yet to find ease in small talk. I understand its importance. I don’t judge its existence. I wish it came naturally. But it doesn’t. Perhaps it never will.
The ironic piece is this: after years of learning to speak, now I want to be quiet. I want to listen.
As I feel the pace of life whirl, I want to tumble into the sounds of nature and the voices of the people I love and be still and present there. On a recent evening, my daughter and I sat at the shore’s edge. Behind us: tall, dry grass. Before us: the ocean at low tide. The breeze picked up. The grass began to move. The rustling arrested my thoughts. I became increasingly still as internal dialogue emptied and the sound of the grass poured in. Then I started an experiment. From that sound, so close behind me, I slowly expanded my listening outward. From the grass to the trees nearby, to the birds just beyond, to the crackling of drying seaweed, to the lapping of the water, to a distant plane. My daughter’s typically moving body sat quietly alert beside me.
As a child, I loved to go outside on winter nights after dark. I’d lie on my back near the edge of the forest and listen to the wind move through the pine needles far, far above me. In those moments, my typically searching and yearning being would feel peace and contentment.
When I listen – and I mean really listen, with hearing as my whole focus – my internal sense of time slows. I feel completely where I am. I tune into the essential sounds of life and more and more believe it is okay to be quiet. It is okay to not always have something to say. It is acceptable – and perhaps even powerful – to speak only when I want and not because I think I should.
On that recent autumn evening, my daughter and I eventually made our way along the shore to a spot where someone has placed two chairs. She likes to sit together there. So we sat. As is so often the case, my sight took precedent over my hearing and I gazed at the sun’s golden dance across the water. Suddenly my daughter said: “Listen.” I turned. Her body was again alert. “Listen,” she repeated. “Wind. Trees.” Then she held her arms towards me. “Hold you.”
I shifted her to my lap and we sat. We listened. The wind in the trees behind us. The water before us hitting the rocks below. A bird calling. Wings flying. The world talking.