A friend once told me that the most intimate thing you can share with someone is silence.
Go on a first date or to a cocktail party and this truth becomes obvious.
When meeting someone for the first time, we fill the air with words. Small talk erupts unceasingly, each participant unwilling to let in the intimacy and discomfort of silence. We typically continue this battle with silence through many subsequent meetings with friends or lovers. Then gradually, our insistence on chatter and the terror of awkwardness begins to subside. Brief moments of silence start to emerge, which eventually evolve into minutes, and then maybe, maybe even hours.
Perhaps the classic tale of the old married couple sitting silently over bowls of spaghetti at a restaurant has forever been misinterpreted. Perhaps instead of a tragic story, it is a hopeful one. Perhaps it isn’t the mark of two people who have grown bored of each other. Perhaps instead, it is two people who have become so at ease in each other’s presence that they can exist silently across a table, unencumbered by the necessity of conversation.
This is not to say that conversation is a negative aspect of relationships. Conversation is clearly necessary and fruitful. It is a central component of all relationships—familial, friendly, or romantic. Yet, possibly, the most intimate act of all is the absence of conversation.
Our minds operate much like two people on a first date or at a cocktail party. The uncertainty of what will happen if silence occurs keeps our brain in constant chatter mode. Just like an acquaintance at a party, our mind gossips or talks about the weather. It tells us about what it’s feeling that day or what it thinks about its coworkers. It rants about the political climate or the sports game it saw last night.
The mind is the world’s best small-talker.
Our mind’s enthusiasm comes to great use much of the time. Even so, becoming comfortable with ourselves might involve similar processes to feeling at ease with others. The brain keeps the chatter going to avoid the discomfort of sitting silently with ourselves. When we feel uncomfortable or scared of what our minds contain, we allow them to rant. We let them provide nonstop commentary on our lives. Only when we release ourselves from the ongoing dialogue of the ego can we see ourselves as we are.
The practice of meditation offers up the possibility of silence.
This silence at first can be torturous. The mind delights in resisting silence by leaping in with insights or complaints. Yet, meditation asks us to return. It asks us to come back to the practice. It asks that we let go of the idea that silence is inevitably painful. At other times it asks us to accept this pain. To accept the awkwardness. To accept the silence in all its intimacy.
Meditation is the process of becoming more intimate with ourselves. We learn to sit with ourselves without the trappings of words, ideas, expectations, or opinions. We come face-to-face with our pure, unadulterated selves. With practice, we find moments of silence, then minutes, then maybe even hours. We no longer require ourselves to fill the silence with small talk.
We practice meditation until one day, we find ourselves sitting across from our minds, sharing in the intimacy of silence as we lean over bowls of spaghetti and sip from glasses of wine.