Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Nothing to say

Not many people are capable of staying silent for long periods of time. Most people are afraid of too much silence, it makes them feel uneasy, insecure, vulnerable. So they chatter aimlessly to fill the void.

I once knew a young Indian woman who was as near to silent as you could find. Her name was Kalpana and she worked in the same bookshop as me.

We would go out to a coffee shop and she would be quite comfortable for long stretches simply observing me and her surroundings. Occasionally she would ask me a question such as "Why did you shave off your beard?" or "When did you last feel sad?"

Or she would point out something she had seen. "Look at that guy with the amazing ginger hair" or "That waitress has a tattoo on her left shoulder". And I would see things I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

She seldom said anything about herself. If I asked her why, she would say "I can't be bothered. And anyway, who really wants to know?" Well, I do, I would reply, but she wasn't to be budged. It took me many months simply to find out where she lived, how many siblings she had, what her parents did. "I prefer just looking and listening" she said.

This was at a time when I was having therapy. When I told her how much it cost, she smiled and said "I could listen to you, and I'd only charge a fiver an hour."

You might think she was too reticent, too self-effacing, too willing to be an audience for others. But she was always visibly happy, even when everyone else in the bookshop was scowling and disgruntled. She had some inner spiritual flame that illuminated her whole being and was never extinguished by anything.

She was a beautiful person and I was privileged to have crossed her path.

Cartoon shamelessly stolen from Eclectica


Hullaballoo said...

Oh Gawd, she would drive me nuts, with her inner wisdom and silence power. I would want to pull her hair and tickle her until she reacted. I guess that's why I would never take to working in a bookshop, too much silence for my liking lol.

Grannymar said...

I think I must have some Indian blood in me!! I am more a listener than a talker. I love meeting, listening and getting to know people. We do that with blogging... we are listening without the distraction of the outside packaging.

rummuser said...

Nick, I come here via Grannymar who nudged me to. I am an Indian. The original version, not the American wannabes.

My late wife was exactly like Kalpana. I learnt to listen from her and like Grannymar am considered to be a good listener too. I do talk but prefer to listen more than talk. My father who moved in with me just four months ago, finds this very strange behaviour and wonders if this is my way of mourning my wife's death.

I am however very much talkative on my blog. Do drop in and share. I shall do so here in future.

rummuser said...

Incidentally, Kalpana translates to Imagination.

lizziedripping said...

I have been accused of having too much blarney but i am perfectly happy to sit in silence and just watch, it all depends on the moment.

Wisewebwoman said...

It is only in the silence we sense our own vibrations and learn to know ourselves, clearly and without fear.
It takes enormous courage to sit and be still and not want to inject our own reality upon others.
It took me a long time to learn this.
I was afraid.

herschelian said...

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard,
Why can't we all be like that bird?

Nick said...

Hulla - Yes, I can see a bit of a personality clash there, especially with you being mischievous and all. Not all bookshops are silent though, the big ones are pretty hectic.

Grannymar - Very true about blogging not distracting you with all the external stuff.

Hi Rummuser. Interesting that your wife has a similar personality, and that your father finds this quietness so strange. Wasn't it a Zen roshi who said "He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know"?

Nick said...

Rummuser - I never knew Kalpana meant imagination. One of the things she never told me!

Lizzie - I'm naturally the sitting and watching type, it's always a bit of an effort to chatter.

www - True, being silent for a while can bring a lot of insights bubbling to the surface.

Herschelian - Yes, I know that one, a lovely old rhyme. A bit like the quote from the Zen roshi.

Baino said...

Haha . . well you know me Nick, I can talk the leg off a chair . .I don't think you got a word in edgeways when Jenny and I started gasbagging! I spend most of my free time in silence so need to catch up when I socialise. I take your point about observance though. I'm excellent at noticing the little things about people. (Except beards and hair do's I never notice changes in those!)

Nick said...

Baino - You're right, I had a hard time contributing my two-penn'orth! I tend not to notice new hairdos either unless they're very dramatic. Which means women can get rather miffed!

Wisewebwoman said...

Baino & Nick:
I beg to differ on the hair, y'all would notice mine. For sure.
And if you didn't I'd sit quietly in a corner and open a vein.

Nick said...

www - Ha, prove it! Where's the picture? How do we know you've really dyed it red?

Suburbia said...

She sounds wonderful, I would like to have met her myself.

Nick said...

Suburbia - This was about 30 years ago! I wonder where she is now and what she's doing.

Leah said...

A lovely post! I treasure silence, at times. Although I can be garrulous, I also believe silence is necessary for inner peace and self-reflection, or just being. I agree that many people are deathly afraid of silence, especially in our noisy modern world, where every second is filled with twitters and commercials; maybe we've gotten too used to it...

Nick said...

Leah - Welcome! Absolutely, silence helps us to become aware of ourselves in ways that are impossible in a social hubbub.