Silence and it’s Many Meanings

Unfortunately I already wrote a beginning to this blog 2 times, and it got erased both times, so I’ll try again.

Silence. Quiet. Breath. Pregnant pause. Calm. Peaceful. Meditative. The silent moments in a therapy sessions, filling the room. Hearing the noise in your head when you try to quiet the mind. Death. Sleep. Dreaming. Awakening. Feeling words in your head but they can’t come out. Non verbal communication. Silent witness. Silent treatment. Quiet art making, uncomfortable silence, an angel just flew through the room. Silent meditation retreat….

These are just some associations to the idea of silence. It can be deeply relaxing to be silent with someone or incredibly uncomfortable. Both children and adults at times choose on purpose to stop talking. In some cases, as a result of some kind of trauma, including deaths, accidents and all kinds of abuse, a child or adult can become “selectively mute.” S/he has not stopped being able to talk, but has “chosen” to stop saying anything out loud. The younger the person, the less control they tend to have over it. Adults in group settings report noticing that they have decided not to say anything for whatever reason, often to see what happens if they do not talk, and whether anyone notices. In a group therapy setting, a good group therapist will notice this pretty quickly and note it to the group and the person without putting pressure on him or her to say anything. In 12 Step groups, members will just wait until the new person feels comfortable enough to talk. The positive effect of this, is that the person will feel accepted and ok to just sit there and be welcomed and supported without having to say anything, which is often too scary for them. Usually the effect is positive, and the person will continue attending meetings because they feel no pressure to do anything but just show up, and often eventually after many meetings, this person will suddenly be moved to share with others. The same may be true for group therapy. Usually the group therapist asks the members to “just show up consistently” and the rest will take care of itself. In fact, when I was in one of my early jobs in my career doing a weekly group with my caseload, I forgot what this group was called, but every case manager did the group once a week, anyway, I got very concerned with coming up with ways to “fill” the group, with talk about some topic, or special music or other types of ways to hold the group. I still remember my supervisor saying, “You’re trying too hard, which is why you are finding this group stressful for you. Just show up and the group will be fine with that. Try to work less.” It was some of the best advice I ever got about leading/facilitating group therapy; I did what she said, and felt more relaxed with the group, and they probably felt more relaxed with me. Group art therapy is especially holding and comfortable for people who don’t like to talk in front of others that they don’t know well, especially when very intimate and personal issues are being shared. The good thing is that the silent member of the group can still communicate a lot nonverbally about himself or herself in the art work.

The Silent Treatment. Who has not used that with a romantic partner or parent? It’s so nasty and effective. If you’ve been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you probably felt very hurt and upset. It’s very hard to deal with a loved one refusing to talk, especially when there is probably a lot to talk about and both people involved feel hurt and angry… Often the “Silent Treatment” can really be toxic and put a stop to any kind of positive form of processing and communicating, as both people move further away from each other, unless the silence gets broken.

Silent Retreat: quite the opposite of the above paragraph, as going on a Silent Retreat with a meditation group can be very eye opening for the individual. Choosing to be in a structured situation of complete silence for a week or even a weekend can be very powerful. People notice their inner voices that won’t shut up because as they are quiet, they become highly aware of their mind, which is usually very noisy, as all our minds are full of noisy voices, often critical exacting voices constantly commenting on what we’re doing and what’s wrong with it. When you choose to be silent for so many days, you become extremely painfully aware of your different “Selves”. It becomes like peeling an onion, and the more time you spend, the better you can be at quieting your mind so you can become more aware, more awake, more present to the here and now, and get out of your “Noisy Mind”. Some people choose one day of the week to be quiet all day, as a kind of day of rest and way to get in touch with where you’re at and Be Here Now…

There is another kind of noise in our world that we can choose to shut out and it is not necessarily sound though sometimes it does involve actual sound. Try a day with no TV, no internet, no texting, phoning or emails, no radio or outside info from the outer world. You don’t have to stop talking all together to become more present to your inner state and to what is going on around you. This is what vacations are truly for, to take a break from your life and all the “noise” in it and get relaxed and calm to be in a state of mind where you can accept yourself and even get to know yourself better.

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One thought on “Silence and it’s Many Meanings

  1. Hi I enjoyed reading your post, when I was doing a Clinical placement as a trainee Art Therapist I worked with a little boy who dident talk for six of the session’s I used this as a case study as it fascinated me? I wont go into the detail’s but I worked with him for 8 month’s using Art Therapy and he eventually went back to school, original referral had been his school phobia as well as some other issue’s, you may find an Article by Andre Green interesting he write’s ; ‘ dosage of silence’ as being important and this can only be understood by inhabiting the silence with the patient in order to understand it’s quality Inscape Volume 1, 1995 I think he has written a book on Silence in Therapy and it’s many meaning’s :)))))) Senay

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