Do Not Speak Unless…

So, as I posted yesterday, I spent the weekend at Cradle Mountain with an old friend of mine. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call her Joanna. I’ve known Joanna for about 15 years, she is one of a group of girlfriends that I considered my very good friends when I was living in Fremantle, Western Australia. What’s interesting about this group of friends when I catch up with them now, is I find them all very intense. And incredibly self-involved. There’s an easy explanation for this: in my early twenties when I made these friends I was really intense and self-involved myself!

Anyway, on the five hour drive up to Cradle Mountain, Joanna was talking, talking, talking away in the passenger seat. It was like being tapped repeatedly on the side of the head with a rubber mallet – not life threatening, but after a while you kind of wanted it to stop. Maybe it’s living by myself on 50 acres, but these days I really value my peace and quiet. As the hours went by I realised that what was masquerading as a conversation wasn’t really a conversation at all, because Joanna wasn’t actually listening to anything I said. She would ask me a question and when I started to reply, would just start talking over the top of me about something completely different. Or she would ask again and again about things that we’d already discussed.

To my enormous relief, once we started bushwalking in the beautiful pristine wilderness of Cradle Mountain, the peace of the bush setting seemed to have a calming influence on my friend. Whole minutes passed where she did not feel compelled to say anything. She seemed more at peace with herself, and for a brief time I think she allowed herself to just be in the wonderful landscape around her.

Then we got back to our cottage, and the chatter started up again. Don’t get me wrong, it was really great to catch up with my friend. She is an amazing woman who has faced down many challenges in her life, and it was great to be reminded of our times together in Western Australia all those years ago.

But it did get me thinking about the difference between doing and being. I think there are many people in this world (particularly in the West) who are honestly quite frightened to just be with themselves. If ever they feel they might have to sit quietly and just be they immediately go into a flurry of activity. They compulsively work, or shop, or talk, or exercise, or dive into a relationship with the nearest available person – anything to avoid being with themselves.

Like a lot of my friends from my 20’s, Joanna has Buddhist affinities. It’s with some irony I note that she’s done many vipassana retreats, intense 10 day meditations that are conducted in complete silence. So I’ll end with a lovely Buddhist precept, one which perhaps Joanna still has some way to go before understanding:

‘Do not speak- unless it improves on silence.’

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