Silence – The Most Honest of AllPosted: January 9, 2015
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
~ Khalil Gibran
The cold winter air settles along the Elk River valley as I meander my way upstream like the salmon I see spawning in the once silt choked gravels of the river. I put on my winter cap and cram my hands deep into the pockets of my light down jacket. After crossing the river at the three mile bridge, I ascend into the upland redwood forest where the warmer air and physical exertion of the climb have me soon removing both the jacket and the hat and stowing them in my daypack. What a wonderful experience of the physical nature of air and temperature and its relationship to landform! Hot molecules of air move and groove (yes that is the technical term for it – the old “move and groove”) and therefore are less dense so they rise and the cold air molecules sink. Fairly easy concept but it remains just that, a concept, until you experience it directly.
As I wind may way upward, following the Little South Fork Elk River trail towards its terminus in an old-growth loop, I find myself giving some honest (pun following and intended) thought to a concept I was recently made aware of thanks to an essay by Andrea Heljskov (see http://andreahejlskov.com/) for a wonderful and thought provoking blog). It’s funny how a phrase or even a single word in a conversation or essay can take you off in a direction seemingly driven by someone else, some outside force. This happened to me recently while reading Andrea’s blog: two words hidden amongst seven-hundred others like blades of grass in a field. She briefly mentions visits to her homestead from people practicing the “hip trend of radical honesty” as she puts it. This one line got me curious: what is radical honesty? And then I got to thinking, “what is honesty?”
First, let’s take a look at radical honesty which I know very little about. According to the all-knowing, all-powerful Wikipedia, radical honesty is “a technique and self-improvement program developed by Dr. Brad Blanton which asserts that lying is the primary source of modern human stress and that practitioners will become happier by being more honest, even about painful or taboo subjects.”
It sounds like how you get when they have had a few too many adult beverages. I am not sure why there needs to be a program for this; seems cheaper to me just to go down to the corner market and buy yerself a twelver of Oly (that’s “Olympia” for those not in the Pacific Northwest). After a half-dozen cans or so, you can bet you will be inebriatingly honest, if not radically so. Well I suppose someone with an advanced degree had to come up with a theory, technique or program, so cheers to Dr. Brad!
Now let’s got on with this bit about honesty. As defined by the American College Dictionary honesty is “uprightness, probity or integrity; truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness.” Simple enough; yet it occurs to me that this is all predicated on there being some absolute truth that we are somehow instantly and always tapped into. We could probably argue about this one until we are dizzy like a dog chasing its tail but what occurred to me on the trail is perhaps more immediate, more direct and certainly more relative. In any given moment my brain is secreting thoughts left and right, which is what it does. And in that moment, in the immediate second after a stimulus, I have many honest thoughts that are secreted by my brain. So which do I choose to bring forth, to let loose on the world? And which is the most honest: the one that came first, which is often impossible to tell; the most vociferous; the most subtle; or the most kind? I could go on and on. However, my point here is that there are many honest answers in each given moment and so how do you decide which is the most honest?
To illustrate this further, perhaps beating a good horse dead as has been said, lets entertain (pun intended) a scenario. You are invited to dinner at a friend’s house and the host serves up boiled face including the supposedly delicious eye fat. (You may think this an outlandish scenario but I experienced this in Morocco where there is a compliment that goes “you are tasty like eye fat”). The meal arrives and you try the eye fat. Suffice it to say that it does not tickle your fancy and you vow to never use that (un)compliment again. So what do you say, if anything, to your host at the end of the meal? Those practicing radical honesty, I suppose, would tell the host that this was the worst meal that they have ever had and that they look forward to vomiting it all out in just a few moments. Harsh but honest right and if honest then it somehow makes themselves feel better about themselves even if at the expense of the other. Or you could say that this wasn’t your favorite meal and that perhaps eye fat isn’t all that tasty. You might say that it was an interesting meal, your first time eating eye fat. You could even thank the host for the effort of cooking the meal, which probably took hours.
My question is: which is the honest answer because they all seem honest to me? I would argue that we have many honest selves that could respond truthfully. The beauty of this is that the nuances of each moment require paying attention and the skill to respond appropriately. Sometimes it’s being kind, sometimes its being brutally honest while at other times silence is the most honest response.
As I reach the old-growth loop, I remove my shoes and socks and walk slowly and silently among these ancient giants. The oldest coast redwoods are over two thousand years old and surely some of these are a thousand years old if not more. How many truths have they known over that vast time period? What have been their honest answers to climate change, fires, earthquakes, landslides, loggers and hippies? Each requires the stoicism and presence to respond appropriately and differently, I think they would respond. The deep silence of this place tells me that silence can be the most honest of all.