Janet Fitch, the author of the novel White Oleander, writes in this month’s Vogue magazine (not available online) about her ten days of self-initiated silence, and the astonishing effect it had on her. She’d been thinking about a meditation retreat, but when her family wanted to go on a ski trip she wasn’t keen on, she decided this was her chance to try a week of simple silence without the chants and poses.

She began by setting her phone to take messages instead of ringing, and telling callers she would not return calls until the end of the ten days. Then she began going for walks and just waving, instead of talking with, people she encountered who she knew. So far so good.

But she discovered that she was filling the conversational space with reading. So she stopped reading. Writing, offline, was OK, as was listening to instrumental music, but no reading at all: no books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies. That’s when things really started to change. She found she was taking the time to pay attention, to restart things she had dropped, to discover new interests and talents, to cook well instead of indifferently. “It was the absolute attention I had read about in Zen texts: I had the time to perform each action with a perfect, slow gracefulness.”

When I spend time in the forest, my heart rate initially leaps and then slows. My senses perk up, and when there is no stream of language messages coming into my brain, I begin to hear other sounds, languages with no words. I begin to sense with my other senses, including the subconscious. I become aware, of my body, of all-life-on-Earth, of what is real, here, now. What Glenn Parton calls “the machine in our heads” stops.

I think it is important, in our rush to find meaning and purpose and direction, through love and conversation and community, through social discourse of all kinds, that we allow time, perhaps every day, to be wordless.

But I think Janet was wrong to allow herself to keep writing. Although it’s creative, writing is still a conceptual process. Being completely wordless for a long period allows you to be a perceptual animal instead. To grasp, to learn with the senses instead of the brain. To be concrete not abstract. To be real. To live in the world, not in your head.

For now, for awhile at least, I intend to spend my six hours of presence/reflective time each weekend wordlessly.No reading, writing, or listening to words.

I’m going to practice being wild.

Thanks to Cheryl for sending me an edited transcript of the article.

Category: Let-Self-Change
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3 Responses to Wordless

  1. Tom Carding says:

    No writing as well would have sent me a little peculiar in combination with everything else, but I see your point.I wonder how that would have affected the article? would there be less narrative and more outcome?

  2. I love the idea of more silence and escaping the conceptual machine.I’m laughing, wondering how you plan to waste those 3.4 hours though.

  3. EJ says:

    Why stick to such a rigid 5 workday 2 weekend day schedule? If you are free to set your own hours why not 3/4, 5/2?

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