I think one thing we could use right now is a Silver Linings Playbook (to borrow from the title of the hit 2012 movie). We need strategies for finding the light that leaks out around the edges of the dark cloud we find ourselves under.
One who was especially skilled at finding light in darkness was Bill. W., a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. In his book, As Bill Sees It, Bill talked about why A. A. was so successful at bringing real help and healing to struggling individuals around the world.
“Every aspect of this global unfoldment can be related to a single, critical word. The word is “communication.” There has been a life-saving communication among ourselves, with the world around us, and with God. From the beginning, communication in A.A. has been no ordinary transmission of helpful ideas and attitudes. Because of our kinship in suffering, and because our common means of deliverance are effective for ourselves only when commonly carried to others, our channels of contact have always been charged with the language of the heart.”
As a guest to A. A. meetings, I’ve been deeply impressed with the way members talk with each other. It does seem that they’ve found a new kind of language born of struggle, failure and pain. It’s a language that cuts through pretense, a language of honesty and authenticity, a language of humility and humanity and humor, a language of the real, of what essentially matters, a language of both deep acceptance of the way things are and hopefulness for growth, a language of vulnerability and daily victories.
As Bill mentioned, it’s a language beyond “ordinary transmission of helpful ideas and attitudes.” It’s a language beyond psycho-babble or pompous platitudes or philosophical pronouncements. It’s a language of the real. A language of the heart.
Could it be that these difficult times might help us become more fluent in the language of the heart?
We know the language of everyday routine. The language of the daily chatter of the media. The language of helpful advice. The language of the noise in our heads. But sometimes the words feel empty. Sometimes they even turn to ashes in our mouths.
And sometimes, we sense the need for a deeper, more authentic language. A language beyond games and mere noise. A language that helps us tell it like it is with us. A language that lets us look each other in the eye and talk from the heart once in a while. A language that lets us say something that matters once in a while.
How do we become more fluent in the language of the heart? Paradoxically, we might start with the place where language stops—the place of silence. The poet T. S. Eliot said:
“Where can the word be found? Where can the word resound? Not here. There is not enough silence.”
Eliot is talking about how difficult it can be to find a word that connects deeply.
Maybe finding this word and learning the language of the heart begins with getting over the noise, over the busyness, over the fear of silence.
Maybe it starts with quieting our minds, embracing the silence, getting comfortable with it, allowing solitude to become a warm, friendly, welcoming place.
And from there, we move to the silence of true, deep listening and genuine presence—the most precious gift we can give others in our lives.
Maybe silence can help us find those silver linings.
Maybe silence is not the enemy of language after all. Maybe it’s one of our best teachers.