The Language of Less
A minimalist approach to written and spoken word
silence—the only language I am fluent in
The words above are a one line poem I wrote some years ago. A monostich, as it is known.
A single line, yet it carries so much meaning.
What does it mean?
It means that I find myself in the silence, not the words. That words are a poor imitation when compared to silence. The poet Rumi spoke eloquently of such matters. He also knew the value of silence over words.
Silence contains all words, all meaning. We can sit with a monk or a master of any given faith or practice, in complete silence, and sense meaning in that silence.
In Zen, Ch’an, Daoist, and Sufi poetry, the same is true. The words punctuate the silence. Not the other way around. They are the less to silence’s more.
Silence is vast, without bounds. Words are by their nature bounded by definition.
In Buddhism, there is a term “noble silence”. It is a matter of choosing silence over words. If we are working in the kitchen, we work in silence, but if the soup is burning, it is also noble to say “the soup is burning” to someone else if we need assistance. If not, we just silently remove the pot from the heat.
So this noble silence leaves space around our activities as well as our words.
I worked in an ashram publishing office for some years. We also worked in noble silence. A small bell was kept in the office. If the necessary whispers that we share whilst collaborating on book and video projects became too much of a noise, breaking this noble silence, we each had the right to get up and ring the bell, calling everyone’s attention back to silence, from the words.
The same was present in the kitchen and dining room. We ate in silence. In this community of noble silence, we learned the value of both silence and words. We learned not to speak the “fish and chips” talk of cheap words and conversation. We rarely spoke in this environment, and if we did, it was either essential to our work, or to our spiritual development. We didn’t speak of our personal lives, our past, or our future, unless necessary. This brought life to our language, as well as to our silence.
Words can cause misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and confusion. If we speak less, our words are valued more greatly, by ourselves and those around us.
Try it for an hour, or even for a day. At home or work, notice how easily you burble out meaningless words, often in order to avoid silence. Notice how we fear silence, when we could embrace it.
You will have more time for the things you value. It also applies in social media use. The written word is frequently used in the same mindless way, over and over, on Facebook for example. Mindless posts, with mindless answers. Imagine if instead of making that next post, you asked, is it of value to someone? And if not, you don’t make it, and enjoy the space it opens up for you, because you won’t be tracking and responding to replies. The same in social chat messaging.
Try it, I guarantee it will change not only your approach to conversation, but also to life.
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