Sound Decluttering

I had a mute massage yesterday.

My massage therapist, also a dueling pianist (pronounced pi-AN-ist) at the Tavernacle Social Club, is on doctor-ordered vocal rest. She offered to postpone my massage until after she could talk again, but that would be after we are planning to be on our way cross-country, so I kept my appointment.

It was interesting lying there and observing my reactions to the silence. Of course, she can still hear so I could have spoken to her during the massage, but it just felt right not to.

My main reaction was one of relief. I like silence, but I didn’t realize just how much effort it takes me to make conversation. It ended up that it felt more natural to stay silent than it did to speak, so I stayed silent.

In spite of the comfort I felt keeping silent, I found myself thinking of things to say. I think I recognize that silence is, for many people, not so comfortable, and I’ve programmed myself to fill in silence as a courtesy.

Trouble was, all of the things I could think of to say were questions soliciting information from my massage therapist. I wanted to know how her silence was going. She’d posted on Facebook that it was getting more challenging, and I wanted to hear more about the ways in which it was challenging. I wanted to know how her silence was affecting her family and more about the ways in which her daily interactions had changed.

But since I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get answers to these questions while lying facedown on the massage table, I lapsed back into my comfortable silence and thought about how great the massage felt and about my periodic thoughts of engaging in a vow of silence of my own.

I read a story a couple of years ago about a guy who took a vow of silence and didn’t speak for 17 years. He also didn’t ride in any conveyance powered by fossil fuels. Then finally a few years ago, he broke his silence and bought a Prius. The idea intrigued me (minus the buying of the Prius…nothing against Prii, I just found the silence part more compelling. Buying a Prius is pretty mundane, but buying one after a 17-year vow of silence is something else entirely).

I think of a vow of silence as a decluttering of sorts. As I’ve mentioned, talking to people takes a lot of energy for me. Remaining silent would be almost freeing, I think. I imagine that it would create space in my life much as decluttering stuff does in my physical environment. I like the idea of being released from the obligation of social chatter, free to simply smile and listen (or not) to the conversations around me.

My massage therapist talked—or rather, wrote—about how strangers seem to assume that since she doesn’t speak, she can’t hear either. They direct their verbal comments and questions to the people she’s with rather than to her. I think she found this amusing and enlightening and at the same time inconvenient and annoying, and perhaps kind of offensive. I can see having all of those reactions, but I keep coming back to that feeling of freedom I imagine.

I’ve realized for a while that I’m better at abstention than I am at moderation. I keep telling myself not to yell, and I keep yelling. So I figure that perhaps if I don’t allow myself to talk at all, I might finally be able to stop yelling.

So with all of the things that appeal to me about a vow of silence, why don’t I take one? It wouldn’t be that long. Maybe two or four weeks, just to get a taste of it.

I think I’m afraid of how silence would change my relationships.

I homeschool. Could I do that silently? Would a month of mommy silence hamper my son’s development of verbal skills?

What about my friendships? Could they exist without me speaking? I could do everything online, but there are so many miscommunications that come of that kind of interaction that could be resolved in a short vocal conversation.

I’m getting ready to move to a new state. Would a vow of silence diminish my ability to make new friends and build a social network? It would certainly influence how the people I met treated me. But then, I’m always wanting to meet more introverts. Perhaps staying silent could help draw out those people who find too much talking uncomfortable. Perhaps it would give the introverts around me the space to speak.

I couldn’t speak for my daughter when she’s feeling shy or translate for my son when he launches into a toddler-talk monologue with a stranger. But maybe that would be good for them. Maybe they could become more confident if I weren’t always there to bail them out.

Unable to make the decision to implement a vow of silence, I put the idea on the back burner again. Maybe when my kids are older, or when we’re planning a “summer vacation” from schoolwork anyway, or after we’ve all taken an ASL course, or after I’ve got well-established friendships in our new hometown.

Or maybe I could take the middle ground in each conversation and just let the silence be rather than feeling compelled to fill it.

Have you ever taken a vow of silence by choice or by necessity? How long were you silent? How did your relationships change during your silence? How did they change when you broke your silence?

To read about one person’s month of silence, visit My Vow of Silence (start on February 1, 2009).

4 Replies to “Sound Decluttering”

  1. I am a total extrovert. I struggled with having to be silent for like one day after my tonsils were removed. However, I find now that once I am home from work and alone (since Paul is away) I will go all night without saying a word. I am guessing this is only possible to do because there is no one around for me to talk to. I admire your ability to just be in the silence.


    1. I don’t think it’s admirable or not to be able to sit in silence, although I do find it interesting to see how different people react to silence. My husband is not comfortable with silences in conversation, which makes it a challenge if I’m trying to do something like haggle the price of a car while he’s with me. If the salesperson is quiet, my husband will just fill that silence by spilling the beans about my entire negotiating strategy. He’s gotten more used to silence, though, as we’ve been married longer. I think he’s come to see the value of leveraging someone else’s discomfort against them. 🙂


  2. Charity, I was going to have a quick reply to this post, but it is turning out to be a post of it’s own. I guess it is my turn to ask if I can refer to your post in my post.


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