Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading and Navigating Silences

This is Essay #7 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

Silence, like love, comes in many forms.


I wake very early in the morning, before the sunrise. I like the silence before the day begins. The stillness. Long before there is any stirring in my house or even out on the street. During the warmer months, I sometimes hear the first birds, but not often. This I how early I wake.

I spend that time meditating and writing. Sometimes they are one and the same. I find that the mind –while it still whirls with endless thoughts—has a slower pace. Of course, that lasts about five minutes before it ramps up. Then I try to return to the breath. Listen to the silence.

In yoga, there is something called Nada Yoga. The inner sound. You hear it when you sit in absolute silence. It’s the sound of the vibration of your very being. (If you’re curious, Google it.)

This silence allows for an opening, an expansion. A connection to the Divine.


I grew up a quiet girl.

If you know me, this is very difficult to believe. If you don't know me, well-- I am loud, a bit frenetic. Always urgent. Always trying to do everything at once. And loudly. Sometimes I feel like Hamilton who writes like we're running out of time, writes like tomorrow won’t arrive, writes like we need it to survive.

But I have my quiet moments.

If you take my Asian ethnic identity into account, it's not that hard a stretch to imagine. Asians are notoriously known for our silences. (Though, to be fair, Filipinos, funny enough, are known to be loud Asians.) Plenty is left unsaid. But there is plenty more beneath the surface that is understood. It doesn’t have to be made known with words said aloud. A look is enough. Children, especially girls, are seen –if you’re lucky— and most certainly not heard.

I learned this early on as a kid when I made attempts to communicate with my parents in Tagalog. They immediately insisted on English Only. Also, I was not to speak unless I was first addressed. There were more important adult subjects to discuss at the dinner table. Like that historic moment when Marcos was overthrown and Corey Aquino became president of the Philippines. But they didn’t talk about it to each other. Not really. I just remember excitement in the air. They exuded a feeling of promise and hope for their homeland. If they did talk about it, it was in hushed tones, half sentences. Always in Tagalog. Code that they presumed I didn’t understand.

There were many nights of staring down at my plate, rice swimming in nilaga or tinola broth, wondering when I could be excused. Being silent isn’t easy. But I will venture to say that I’m likely a poet and writer because, in addition to being a bookworm, I had to live in my head to entertain myself during dinner.

I'd like to say that as time has gone by my parents have let go of their affinity for silences, but this, unfortunately, is not the case.

We're not allowed to talk about politics. Ever.

Growing up, my paternal grandfather was a Democrat and his son, my dad, was a Republican. I have no idea how this happened, but this was always how it was. This was my family. I remember times when my grandpa and my dad would get into heated political arguments. Over what? I couldn't tell you. As a kid, I really didn't understand what they were talking about; I just knew that they vehemently disagreed. What's worse is that they were the two most hard-headed stubborn people I knew. The apple didn't fall very far from the tree in that respect. Needless to say, the "conversations" always ended with someone stomping off.

At some point, my grandpa, a WWII veteran, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a man old and tired, declared that there would be no discussion of politics. Ever.

It seemed like a reasonable rule. Why get all worked up about something like politics? For what purpose? In the end, you're stuck with your family so you might as well make things bearable. Right?

But then November 8, 2016 happened.
Politics are different now. 
They are very real, showing up at the everyday level.

So now what?

My grandpa has been gone 12 years now. It seems I have taken his place as the head-butting liberal in the family. The rule of “don’t talk about politics” still remains in place. But at what cost?

I don’t know. The silence between our words during family gatherings is hard to read. But it definitely feels like a ticking bomb. This is a silence I’d rather not navigate.

So what are my options? What does it mean to be silent in this regard? Is it self-preservation? Or does my silence work as some kind of sanction – that, by not actively disagreeing, I am allowing for agreement?

I think about this with regard to the election and how many people did not vote.

Silence is tricky.


Silence can be damaging.

Secrets are tucked in silence. Traumas never spoken sit within and fester. Destroy the heart and soul from the inside out.

Sometimes you need to break that silence. For your own survival.


How you do you choose when to speak and when to hold silence?

“There are moments when the words don’t reach. There’s a grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable.” (from Hamilton's "It's Quiet Uptown")

There is a moment of knowing that words are insufficient, when silence is a comfort. A hand on top of another’s shoulder. An embrace.

There are moments when speaking the words aloud are too scary. After all, you can’t unsay them. What would happen if you released them into the air like an escaped balloon?

The worst kind of silence is when you let your imagination run away from you and you start to build a narrative in your head that doesn’t exist in reality, but somehow you convince yourself that it is real. You invent conversations, predict responses. To what end? Why not just speak?


This morning, I was restless. Reading silences, inventing narratives to fill the gaps. But then it occurred to me: be still, surrender to the moment, trust that something will emerge from the black hole of silence.

Surrender. Trust. Love.

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