The 9 Kinds of Silence: Which Do You Favor? When Do You Use Them?

ContemplationLast week, I wrote about one of the more dubious distinctions of the www. This week, I’m happy to report that, through brain pickings, the www exposed me to something far happier: the work of the 20th century novelist, poet, playwright and psychiatrist, Paul Goodman.

In his book, Speaking and Language, Goodman describes the 9 kinds of silence as follows: 

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”

I was—I am—entranced by this. In my line of work, I realized I (hopefully) toggle back and forth between the alive silence of alert perception and the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear. (Though I confess I am sometimes reduced to baffled silence…)

But how beautiful to be aware of it all! Also, how important to bring our attention to it—particularly as we head into the holiday weekend, with its many opportunities to immerse ourselves in noise and activity.

With this in mind, then, I invite you to spend some portion of your weekend, and the weeks to come, checking in on your silences. Which are you favoring? How are you using them? When are they adding depth and beauty to your life?

Frances Cole Jones