Wordlessness brings me peace and companionship sadly absent in most human-to-human relationships. Talking to one another builds a framework for us to interact within, but all too often verbal language grows like an exponentially crystallizing structure in which we become frozen. Our relationships become imprisoned by words. We talk and don’t communicate. Our words become barriers instead of bridges.
I’ve always loved being around trees and cats, wordless entities that speak a language of pure emotion, gesture, and intuition. After a day of talking and listening, nothing is more wonderful than coming home to a few moments of silence in the garden. After years of talking and listening, I sometimes wish I could spend the whole winter in a season of silence.
It’s been hard to write since Fred’s been gone; I resent the tidy little packages so inept at containing my true meaning called “words.” In the past when I was at home, Fred was always by my side or underfoot. For almost fifteen years I would write, draw, read, or dance with my wordless companion close enough to see, hear, or trip over. Writing this blog began as a way to spend time with Fred while exploring my growing love for the garden back in the winter of 2010. I couldn’t be outside in the winter, and I wanted to be inside with Fred even when winter subsided. So I kept writing.
The wordless part of our relationship is probably what keeps me and my husband happy together. He’s one of the few other people I know who are truly comfortable with silence. Of course we talk, and I can get way too chatty after too much coffee, but neither of us worries and fears something is wrong when we’re quiet. We like it. But, there is something different and rich about the communication that takes place between creatures when speech simply isn’t a possibility.
Days of silence on meditation retreat give an inkling of this, and non-verbal exercises in acting class prove the tremendous importance of communicating without words. (I only know about this because I took acting classes to get over being shy.)
There’s an acting exercise involving a group of 3-10 people who stand in a circle. No one does anything. All you do is look at one another, stay mentally and emotionally present, and let your body take on whatever sounds and movements are around you in the circle. Just as silence is full of sounds, standing still is full of gestures normally ignored in everyday life. In this acting exercise, there is no script, and anything can happen. A group of silent people standing still in a circle can become a maelstrom of noises and contorted acrobatics in a matter of minutes. As a shy person in this circle, I have truly known abject terror. I wanted to run away.
I didn’t run away, and I learned to be less shy. I also learned that talking, even though it is the basis of what commonly passes for counseling, is fairly unimportant.
I have to interrupt myself here. This moment in the blog, the moment when I’m building up to some more universal point, something bigger than just me and my little life; this is the point where I want to go play with Fred and let the meaning of whatever is stewing in my brain reach its own fermentation point. I want to get up and pat him and wait for the meaning of all these clattery words to wax or wane into something less awkward, something beautiful. But I’m alone with the words, ugly, convulsive, meaningless words.
All this summer I ran from the words. I spent my time outside. I kept more than busy with the infinite sowing, pruning, weeding, harvesting, and cooking chores a garden compels a gardener to do. I secretly scoffed as usual when clients told me they would handle their difficult feelings by “keeping busy,” and went home and did exactly that. I posted one or two blogs in moments of garrulousness, and then retreated back to my season of silence.
Retreat must be the default mode of all gardeners. How else could we spend hours quiet and solitary, happy to be with our wordless companions?
Silence in the garden is full of voices. They speak without words, so gardeners learn to listen with their whole body instead of just listening with their ears. That’s how we know when to plant or compost or even to kill. There’s some science and aesthetics involved, but ultimately we just know in our gut because we listen to the garden. We lead richer lives because we have friends who come in all shapes and sizes, not just a human form. We work in the garden, and learn a million different languages.