“Maybe the problem is that I’ve been speaking the wrong language.” That was what started to dawn on me yesterday as I sat with B, feeling as if I just hadn’t been getting it right these last couple of months. “Maybe I’m expecting you [he doesn’t use speech to communicate] to use my language- words and music- and not realizing we need to start with yours- which is largely silence.”
It’s not exactly as if I completely missed this crucial element. I’ve been listening to B for years, to be sure, but I’ve largely chosen to attend to his sounds (few and far between) and movements (lots). I’ve noticed his silences- even tried to include his silence in the sound scape (so to speak) by attempting to play the musical qualities I thought he could be expressing through his quiet. Perhaps, though, I have not been giving it the level of importance or emphasis it may need to be given. I realized, not for the first time, that I have to listen to the silence differently.
It’s kind of cool that my work with B has gently reminded me to look at this again. Again, it’s not news. I’m certainly aware of it- just can’t seem to keep it consistently in my mind (no wonder my students feel overwhelmed).
In order to think about and experience silence in a different way (and out of curiosity) I decided to try being silent for a long time in a musical improvisation with my peer supervision group. I even chose a drum with a rather limited range of sound. In one sense, I liked just listening. I also felt the frustrating limitations of the drum I’d chosen. On the other hand, I also felt a pressure to “do something”- to play.
I’ve always marveled (in conversations with my clinical supervisor) how the experience of silence is so different with each of my clients. With one person there’s an anxiety of “what do we now?” while I sense a simple quietness with another. Sometimes there’s an anger to the silence- anger in a defiant sense, and sometimes there’s a waiting quality.
I can’t quite get a sense of B’s silence yet. Is it something he needs? Or is it something he chooses? Either way, why? And how is his silence important to him? What are the qualities of his silence?
Now that I know to focus more fully on that aspect of our work, I can prepare myself to listen to the sounds of B’s silence.