Christmas and new year are very sociable times for most of us. We meet up with family and friends with plenty of opportunity for conversation – and, I suggest, a chance to be mindful of the exchange of so many words. In a blend of truth meeting beauty the poet William Stafford writes four rich sentences in a book appropriately named for our current season of whiteness, Crossing Unmarked Snow. He says, ‘The things you do not have to say make you rich. Saying the things you do not have to say weakens your talk. Hearing the things you do not need to hear dulls your hearing. The things you know before you hear them, these are you, and this is the reason you are in the world.’
Poets have a way with words – after all they are wordsmiths! They choose them carefully and thoughtfully to express what they mean and sometimes to allude to meanings beyond the words. I hear Stafford encouraging us all into a greater thoughtfulness about the words we use and hear. And the hope for each of us to discover the reason we are in the world. I recently discovered another poet’s commentary on these words. John O’Donohue, in his book on ‘beauty’, writes ‘Stafford suggests that these things which dwell out of reach, beyond words, are the things that make the soul rich. The inexpressible depth in us is our true treasure. In our endless social chatter and psychological labelling, we frequently cheapen its beauty. We need to learn the art of inner reverence and never force the soul out into the false light of social gratification and expectation. To observe an appropriate silence regarding our interiority means our talk will never be weak. In a culture where there is a morass of second-hand chatter, we need to mind our hearing; otherwise it becomes dull and deaf to the voice of what is real and beautiful. To practise the discipline of reverence which Bill Stafford recommends means that we remain always secretly ready to receive the words that could illuminate our destiny.’
The love and practise of silence gives us a sense of proportion and balance. In a world saturated with weak talk, where hearts are empty because our ears are dull, and where our heads are so busy, going inwards to find our core reality I find brings a sense of contentment with ‘what is’. We can discover the richness of our inner selves, which brings a sense of self love and acceptance. Happy conversations.