This winter I picked up a postcard in a Savannah coffee shop with this headline:
OF SILENCE AND SLOW TIME
The words spoke to me. Well actually they grabbed me and said, “Pay attention, woman.”
I needed to quiet down the noise of the world to think more deeply and clearly. I craved silence and slowness to let my mind wander and rest.
And yet I felt guilty, confused, restless and sad about being so passive.
“What juicy projects are you working on?”
“Where are your next adventures taking you?”
“What’s your next book going to be?”
People have been asking these questions and I tell them I’m creatively dormant. Nothing’s happening that’s juicy, adventurous or worth writing about, I explain.
They don’t like this answer. I’m the fire starter, the fiercely brave person that they draw energy and inspiration from.
“Are you OK? Are you depressed?”
Nope, I’m just trying to make room for what might be next, I say cheerily.
Though some days I haven’t been so cheery and have worried that this dormancy might be permanent.
What if I never have anything worth saying or researching or fighting for? Should I be more disciplined in writing, meeting interesting people, connecting with potential clients?
Maybe I’m being lazy.
Maybe I should quietly fade away professionally.
Oh, how our lizard brain can torture us when we’re trying to silence the noise.
When we’re quiet we have a better chance of noticing what captures our curiosity, and curiosity is the sprout of inspiration. But too often we fill our lives with busyness, silencing ourselves from ourselves.
Silence vs. quietude
This past Saturday was a rainy, cold day here in New England, perfect for reading, which is both quiet and active for me. In other words I do it a lot because I think it’s purposeful vs. being lazy. (Oh, that Yankee work ethic.)
Scanning Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” newsletter I spot an article about silence. Perfect, I think, I’m all about silence and slowness.
But the article is not about the quietude kind of silence, but the oppressive or liberating nature of silence. Maria’s article is based on the essay, “A Short History of Silence” from Rebecca Solnit’s new book, The Mother of All Questions.
So I download the book and am shaken awake reading Rebecca’s views on silence.
“Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the unheard…
“Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.
“The task of calling things by their true names, of telling the truth to the best of our abilities, of knowing how we got here, of listening particularly to those who have been silenced in the past, of seeing how the myriad stories fit together and break apart, of using any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope is each of our tasks. It’s how we make the world.”
What got me here? What keeps me here?
Next I open an email from friend and artist/writer Suzi Banks Baum. BAM! Her newest post starts by quoting Rebecca Solnit about hope. The title of Suzi’s post: What got me here? What keeps me here?
In examining her own doubt and creative lull, Suzi reconnects with her purpose, her tribe, her reason to keep going.
“I have learned that there is no greater gift than showing up, no longer waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect day, the perfect outfit or political climate. Messy? Yes. Imperfect? Yes. But present and account for? Yup.”
Insights from the dormant, quiet cycle
These women’s words have been speaking to me for days. As I do laundry, write proposals, drive to the office, walk the dog.
I realize that I do what I do so that people will find the courage to speak up and NOT silence themselves.
And this work is a privilege, and a beautiful duty.
That’s why the Rebels at Work movement is such a beloved labor of love for me.
That’s why I love running corporate workshops that make it safe for people to speak up and talk about the real issues affecting them, their teams, their companies.
That’s why I get inspired writing my vulnerable Naked Hearted truths so others may feel more comfortable sharing theirs.
That’s why I love helping non-profits on a mission develop messages that slice through the apathy.
It’s also why some clients are not for me, or me for them. Some executives want to take it slowly, play it safe, address the tactical issues but not the adaptive ones. They want sound fixes but not boat rocking change. They’re not ready to take the lid off the status quo container.
In this quietude, I have learned they are not my tribe and I would be doing them and myself a disservice to come in to do the minor fixing, silencing my voice about the bigger issues and bolder possibilities.
I have learned that writing and journaling helps us find our answers, and that creative expression is a gift not to be evaluated and engineered, but to be freely given. For many of us it is how we infect others with the courage to show up and speak up.
Most of all, I have learned to accept dormancy. It just may be the most important (and difficult) part of any growth process.
So while I may dare you to speak up and come with me to shake the world awake, I double dare you to welcome quiet and slow time.