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Silence as a Self Imposition

sara.gladwin's picture

I chose this photograph because it speaks also to the silence imposed upon one’s self, the limitations we may feel in forming the opinions we do

or do not voice. This past week I have had several realizations leading ultimately into an epiphany about the way silence plays a role in my life, and how it will continue to affect my interactions with classmates in this 360.

I recently come to restructure how I believe epiphanies form, in that I no longer see an epiphany as a sudden realization. Instead I recognize it as a gradual process, one that takes into account multiple realizations and experiences. Often I will discover a piece of an epiphany through my surroundings, or an experience, or another person. Eventually, those small pieces accumulation into a full actualization; into a moment of clarity generally categorized as the epiphany. However, the pieces leading into that moment are crucial and inseparable from the mean

ing of the final realization. When I use the word final, I do need to clarify that I in no way expect that realization to remain stagnant after that; I do expect it to grow and change throughout my life. “Final” simply refers to the moment when the pieces string together to make a whole.  This web event is based on three separate experiences or “pieces” this past week that outline my eventual epiphany

regarding my own silence. I decided to explore these moments because they are currently consuming and shaping how I receive what I learn in this 360 and ultimately how I will approach these courses.

The first “piece” I found was during our first voice class. We performed an exercise in which we wrote about voice and then shared our writing aloud in the class. I became so anxious in the thought of sharing that I heavily policed my own language; which both distracted me from listening and from fully formulating something I felt I could contribute to the classroom.

The second piece of realization happening during our second silence class, where we explored guided meditation. In general, meditation has never worked for me. I have never been able to shut down my thoughts; the part of me that needs to dissect my experience as it happens to me. However, this particular meditation was exactly what I needed to silence that part of me that desires to interpret experience as it is happening, instead of pausing to enjoy the experience itself. When it came time to describe the meditation in one simple word, my mind was utterly blank. I was able to, for the first time, simply enjoy how something felt. I was able to enjoy my own breathing and the weight of my body, without having to think about what any of it meant. I became spatially aware of my place, and the negative spaces surrounding everything. Even the constant humming of the air conditioning and the projector together in chorus became a pleasurable experience for my ears.

The third and last experience that triggered my epiphany occurred in our first Vision class, when we sat in small groups outside, first observing openly, then through a frame, and then writing about what we had seen. When it came time to share our observations, I noticed I was the only person who had not first described my surroundings. Instead I chose to immediately jump into self-analysis of why I was drawn to observe certain people and things.

I often feel that I am my own “silencer” first and foremost. I become a self-silencer in two ways: by choosing to analyze my experiences before they actually take place and by carefully censoring how I speak, especially in the classroom. Interestingly, there is a duality that exists in that in order to just simply experience without analyzing I still have to silence myself. I have to silence my first instincts so that they do not overpower the experience itself and ultimately silence the experience on a very basic, tangible level. My censorship of my language when speaking causes me to overlook not only the learning process evolved in discussion, but it limits the access I have to experiencing another person’s response. I assume the direction of the conversation in my head; instead of actually offering my thoughts to the class so that I can hear real people interact with those thoughts.

My goal for myself this semester is to spend less time analyzing my experiences as they are happening and more time focused on the sensory experience. I’d like to start to allow my initial thoughts room to grow outside my mind, with the help of everyone else in the classroom, instead of silencing those thoughts before they are ever heard. I would also like to think further as we all proceed together about the “Rules of Silence,” especially as they relate to each of us individual and then to how they affect the group as whole. Why do so many people feel so convinced that there are particular requirements and regulations surrounding silence; that there is a right and wrong way of being silent? Not only do we feel policed when attempting silence, but the rules are different for each person, and they are often the main building blocks for constructing the walls that surrounding our speech. These walls can cut us off from one another, from communicating in productive ways. I am hoping that throughout this 360, sharing three courses with the same people will allow room for intimacy, for a safe place for us all to examine and break down some of these walls.



Serendip Visitor's picture


Hi where can I get a hold of the image you used for this article?

Anne Dalke's picture

"The Rules of Silence"

Your initial image of silence tried to capture that moment just before movement and sound: your representation of silence and motion was powerful not only visually, but also in your description of how the photograph "itself is a kind of silencing, because whatever was in motion will stay forever poised, locked in the silence occurring before the drop." Be sure to see the good--and surprising-- use Chandrea made of this image!

You yourself turned, however, to a very different representation, and joined Unihibited, Sashaishin and Sharaai in reflecting on the implications of the striking figure of a young girl's self-silencing (be sure, also, to see the different directions in which that image took them).

Your writing about your own experiences in this regard--"I a my own 'silencer'--spells out three stages in a gradually evolving "epiphany" that takes you through each of the courses in our cluster: first a moment in "voice" when you were "so anxious in the thought of sharing that you heavily policed your own language"; then a time in "silence" when you had gone so deeply into meditation that your "mind was utterly blank" when you were asked to describe it; and finally a period in "vision" when only you were unable to describe the surroundings you had "framed."

I like very much the program you have set for yourself this semester, in respond to this growing awareness of your silencing yourself: "to spend less time analyzing your experiences as they are happening and more time focused on the sensory experience." Doing so will activate this very interesting process--I think this is the most insightful moment of your paper--in which "to just simply experience without analyzing I still have to silence myself." Wow.

There seems to be a technical glitch in your posting, btw: a number of "silences" in the midst of paragraphs that I think you didn't intend? See if you can fix them? (Or do you like the effect? Having just named them as "silences" that interrupt the flow of your prose, I think I've actually also just talked myself into your keeping them there...)