Silence


I’m doing a shift on the crisis line tonight and someone put up a wonderful quote from Rachel Naomi Remen on the wall. It’s about the power of silence and it’s so good (and true) that I wanted to pass it on. If you have never read anything by Rachel Naomi Remen, may I recommend that you stop whatever you’re doing and buy one of her books? I read her book Kitchen Table Wisdom a few years back and it was incredibly powerful and moving and led to one major breakthrough (I was a business card that wanted to be a marshmallow. See, now you have to read the book to figure out what in the world I’m talking about. ;)). I read it on BN’s recommendation and then brought it to session with 15 different yellow stickies in it. She understands the power of human stories, but the even more powerful effect of having ours heard and understood.

I am grateful beyond words that BN understands the use of silence that is spoken of in this quote. Some of our most powerful connections have happened in silence. I am trying to learn to provide it (Which doesn’t come easy as people who know me in person would tell you I can talk the hind legs off a mule; but I’m working on it. :)).

Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal.  The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are.  We are all hungry for this other silence.  It is hard to find.  In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life.  Silence is a place of great power and healing.

Rachel Naomi Remen

  1. February 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Yes, this sort of silence is so very healing. Yesterday, I was in my session and kind of struggling a bit and my T asked me what I wanted to do. And I realized that I just wanted a place where I could curl up and just be and feel whatever was there for me to feel, after spending so much time focused on being as put together and functional as possible for my family. I needed the space that only silence could give to me.

    While doing my training for my masters in counseling, learning to allow silence was one of the most difficult things for me to do. By the time I was working on my MSW, I was at a place in myself where it felt more natural. Now, I sometimes find myself talking to people who are telling me their life story and about their hurts. It’s kind of astonishing how many people will start to tell me about their traumas. Just sitting and listening matters so much to people and not many people out there do it. I think that part of that is because most of us spend most of our lives not being fully present in our own lives. So it is hard to tolerate simply being present, sitting with whatever feelings are being elicited in you, and yet really staying with another person.

    Sorry, being really blathering and probably not very coherent…

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    • February 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Actually you’re being quite coherent, I actually found myself nodding while I read this, thinking “she understands exactly!” There is nothing like that safe space where we can stop, stop striving and just be whatever we are being in that moment and KNOW that whatever emerges will be met with compassion and understanding.

      I also love that you said you struggled with silence. It was one of the things I had to work the hardest on when I was in training. Ironically enough, one of my favorite callers is someone that I sit for long periods of silence. “Simply being present” as you said, is so much harder than it looks. Its really good to have you around again Cat. xx AG

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      • February 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm

        I am so glad to be back! We have internet service as of about 5 hours ago, in case you hadn’t guessed, based on the length of my reply. 😉

        I would imagine that sitting in silence on the phone is ever so much harder than in person. At least in person you get all of the non verbal cues as to what is going on. On the phone, there is nothing. That would be very challenging.

        About 9 months ago, I went through a phase when a part of every session was spent silently curled up on the love seat, soaking in feeling safe. At that point, in session was the only place where I felt like I could let my hypervigilant guard down, because I knew that I could trust my T to keep an eye out and nothing bad was going to happen with her there. Taking in feeling safe week after week helped me to re-establish my ability to create that sense of safety for myself. Yes, we talked about it all, but I really do think that those 5 or 10 minute periods were just as important as any more “active” work that was done.

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  2. GreenEyes
    February 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Silence at the right time can have the most amazing healing quality. But it is SO hard to do, maybe because we think being silent isn’t “helping” or the anxiety it provokes in us is difficult to manage. But it’s one of the hallmarks of a great clinician.

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  3. February 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Greeneyes, so true! I think one of the most important things I have learned about myself on the phone line is that tendency to speak is about me relieving my own anxiety and how important it is to give people the space they need. But it needs to be an attentive, accepting space.

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  4. GreenEyes
    February 8, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Agreed AG 🙂

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  5. February 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    “Talk the hind legs off a mule” lol Never heard that before. I’m quite the opposite. I definitely know that feeling described in the quote because thankfully my T seems comfortable sitting in silence with me some days. He always tells me his office is a safe place. That safe place, including the understanding and accepting silence, means so much to me! I’ll have to check out the book. ~ rl

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    • February 12, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      ReleasingLunacy,
      Stole that one from the first Anne of Green Gables movie, Marilla was describing Anne to Matthew. 😀 I am very glad to hear that you experience this with your T. Having a truly safe place is priceless. ~ AG

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  6. Gel
    February 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I love that quote. That kind of silence is something I have longed for and found in a few relationships in my life.
    I’ve also found it in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (AKA Compassionate communication). I love that a primary part of his approach is that of giving Empathy to others where you listen to others with an intention of hearing them, without judgement or advice giving. I’ve also found this in ReEvaluation Counseling (AKA Co-Counseling).

    I also love what you said to Green Eyes above:
    “one of the most important things I have learned about myself on the phone line is that tendency to speak is about me relieving my own anxiety and how important it is to give people the space they need. But it needs to be an attentive, accepting space.”

    How insightful you are! And I’ve noticed that in myself as well, the need to say something to the person I’m listening to because I’M uncomfortable. But I’m getting more practiced with this kind of spaciious listening. And I believe it is more helpful than people know. Because in that silence there is a trust or faith that other people will find their solutions, and that sometimes just being heard the way we are without trying to change it actually is what is most needed.

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    • February 12, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Hi Gel,
      That model sounds very similar to the model used on the Crisis line. Its a Rogerian model of unconditional positive regard and reflective listening. We do not give advice, people already have enough people in their life willing to tell them what to do. We try to provide a space where it is safe to talk about their feelings so they can find their own solutions. One of the upsides to volunteering on the crisis line is the insight it gives me into what things look like from BN’s point of view. It has also allowed me to believe strongly in how real the relationship is, because I know how I am feeling when talking to people even while being careful to hold the boundaries. Thanks for a very thoughtful comment. ~AG

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