Right Now I’m Reading: The Ragged Edge of Silence

Brain Pickings came through for me again, reviewing and recommending a marvelous book, the second written by radical walker and activist John Francis.

The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World is, in a word,  centering.  In precisely the way I’ve been looking for as of late.  Through a combination of memoir and practice sharing, John Francis tells his story of choosing silence for a birthday, a year, and eventually seventeen years of his life.

Before choosing silence, John Francis became a committed walker of the world.  After the oil spill of ’71 in San Francisco Bay, Francis committed to never driving or riding in a oil-driven vehicle again.  Despite being a year-round bicyclist and happily car-free individual, I’m not sure I’d be able to take a similar stand, more for the barrier it would put on visiting family and friends than anything else.  However, Francis shares deeply personal stories of the challenges and conversations with his loved ones after taking both the vow of oil-free transportation and, later silence.  Through his willingness to lay bare the struggles in understanding and communication that he experiences, I have found myself contemplating the possibility of some kind of similar commitment.  For now I feel my transportation choices are enough of a positive challenge- I spend quite a bit of time already advocating for a car-free lifestyle, and answering questions about why I do what I do.  Silence, however, is another story.

I am not quite a born talker (in fact, back in middle school I received a written comment from a teacher that I needed to more of a shark and less of a minnow) but have become as good as one.  Listening fully has always been a challenge for me, and particularly in these first few months and years of marriage and something resembling adulthood, I want to commit to listening deeply, truly, with my whole being.  Inspired by the practices, stories, and lessons from John Francis, I’m considering committing one day of every month to silence.  Our loved ones, strangers, and the earth itself have much to say if we can learn how to listen, and I hope that if I can find it within myself to open my ears and eyes through silence I will begin to touch the ‘ragged edge’ that Francis speaks of.

“I couldn’t help smiling at myself as I asked internally, ‘Why am I in such a hurry?’  Yes, perhaps it was ursaphobia, the fear of bears, but it felt more like being on the ragged edge, where silence and awareness come and go, where one gets lost and then is found.  It was not simply black and white; it was more like peace, real peace: alive and dynamic, a state where one can discover and explore one’s true self.”


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