The Introvert in Me Honors the Shut Up in You

Life used to be pretty sweet. I could go about my business happily enjoying alone time, Star Trek, and computer games while the people who loved me just said, “Oh, she’s not very social” and sent me nice notes about events I was invited to, but not expected to attend.  Then it happened.  Author Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was released. And the world didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly everyone was an introvert or knew an introvert and was compelled to talk to me about how they respected my need for solitude (often interrupting me while I was working, just to show me they understood I didn’t like to be disturbed).  My normally placid Facebook page was flooded with cutesy comics of “10 Ways to Love an Introvert,” along with notes saying “This is just like you!” And then, like that horror-filled scene in Jurassic Park where they look at the broken fences and realize velociraptors are freely roaming the island, playing chess and plotting to eat the children, a new animal emerged: the “extroverted introvert.”

Extroverted introverts are those wonderful folks full of energy, light, loud voices (and the willingness to use them) who think they might be introverted because they would rather “Netflix and chill (really just chill)” than join a flash mob singing “Thriller” at a Burger King.  They are so sure of their introversion they will talk to you in never-ending sentences about how much stress they feel out of their bubble, and that while they have the need to be constantly seen and surrounded by people, they are really very quiet in spirit. Just not in practice.

Personally, I think those of us who are actual introverts should sue Susan Cain for unwarranted exposure, defamation of quiet time, and disabling our pursuit of happiness. But, that would involve talking to lawyers, leaving the house, possible press coverage, and sitting in a room with people we don’t know. So, Susan Cain, please just go stand in a corner and think about what you did.

The Power of Shut Up

The problem isn’t that people aren’t as introverted as they want to be. It’s that most people can’t stand to be quiet when they are in a room (real or virtual) with another person. Learning to resist the urge for “pleasant conversation” or its horrible hillbilly cousin, “uncomfortable opinion spouting,” takes time and discipline. This is the information age where we reward talkers, typers, and those social “lean in” kind of people. How do those of us embedded in a system of constant communication learn to stop the chatter? By taking a spiritual adventure through the power of “shut up.”

Language is all around us. We don’t have to go to a party full of alcohol enhanced strangers to be talked up.  We don’t even have to leave the safe confines of our recliner. All we have to do was turn on a laptop, iPad or smartphone and…so much talking. Some of it from us.

In an era filled with free-falling verbiage, most of it untrue and damaging, my life became an epic journey in the jungle of other people’s communication. I devoured comment section weevils who eat the truth with alternative facts. I slayed fake news dragons, won reply wars, and laid down my weapons at the feet of “agree to disagree.” In short, like so many of us typing the good fight, I was exhausted.

I realized I needed to stop. I was going to hurt myself – or someone else – if I kept responding to all the people shouting around me.  I put down the phone, turned off the computer, and sat back to take a deep cleansing breath. I opened my eyes to discover the spell of silence. It was far more powerful than anything Harry Potter could conjure, and it filled me like cool spring water from the river of life. I wrapped my mind around the simple truth hidden in plain sight.

Personal peace doesn’t happen when other people stop talking. It happens when you do.

At first I was afraid. What would I do if I wasn’t communicating? Wouldn’t I cease to exist if I didn’t immediately add my voice to the fray? In our hectic 24-hour news cycle, if I listened to others and waited to form an intelligent, considered opinion – the topic would be over by the time I was ready to speak. What a loss! Still, I decided to give it a try. Stepping back to look and listen, I discovered there are some wonderful reasons to be iQuiet:

It lets you feel. Listening to what others have to say without thinking of what you want to say in response is one of the bravest, most revolutionary, things you can do. If you aren’t measuring their thoughts on the scale of right/wrong or looking for the weak link to break their logic, you will experience actual feelings about what they are telling you. The topic may make you sad or sentimental. The way they say it may bring up anger or happiness. There’s so much emotion going on in the silence. Feel it.

I know, I know…feelings? Sounds horrible. But once they start – even the unpleasant ones – you begin to change the way you see people and people begin to change the way you see. It’s worth it. I promise.

It makes you think. Most highly communicative folks like to believe they think a lot. The truth is – thinking isn’t the act of pondering something in your head while constantly re-confirming your own opinion. Thinking is taking in new data and adding or subtracting it from your mindset, leaving room for change and discovery along the way.Listening to someone else’s experience or ideas gives you building blocks for the castles of thought you want to live in.

I know, I know…that’s so much effort. Your new ability to understand, re-imagine, create and infuse your life with the world around you will give you wondrous insight.

It connects you. Buddhists believe that we have all the wisdom and knowledge of the world already inside of us. Thus when we encounter or hear something externally, the inner knowledge connects with its outer counterpart. That’s how we have those “ah-ha!” moments where we hear something new but we know instantly it is the truth – or at least – our truth.

I know, I know…other people, ew.  Yet, that is the basis of Namaste – the divine in me honors the divine in you. We are connected.

I can’t say I spend loads of time in the practice of “shut up.” But my rest here – listening to others, reading news from international perspectives, checking in with my own heart – before joining the commenting world – has been of benefit. Maybe, if I’m lucky, some of you will join me. Before we call out, speak truth, dialogue justice, and cry havoc – we can all sit down and shut up, together.

—– The Bottom Line —–

  1. You don’t have to reach the point of no return to begin to take care of yourself. Give yourself the gift of quiet sanity before you reach the end of the line. Unplug regularly.
  2. What you have to say is important, but what you have to learn should always take precedence.
  3. There is only one way to love an introvert. Love them (and, quietly pushing an occasional chocolate bar under their door is okay too).

 

Shall We Dance?

How awesome is my wife?  Walking in the house with arms full of groceries I said, “I accidentally offended a Christian woman while talking to the flowers at Kroger.” Cathy didn’t look up from the paper she was writing.  She wasn’t surprised about any of the phrases in that sentence. She simply nodded and said, “I’m sure she’ll survive.”  Just another Sunday I went skipping to the store with a song stuck in my head, offended religious people, and had a conversation with some lilies. No chiding. No worries. Nothin’ to see here. That’s an awesome wife.

Shall we Dance?

Of course, it helps that she’s been living in the chatty internal musical that is my life for a long time now. I have always talked out loud to everything around me.  When I park the car I pat the steering wheel and say, “Thank you.”  I talk to food I take out of the oven (“Don’t you look pretty?”), I talk to the dog water bowl (“Why you so empty?”), the television (“That was a great show, thanks.”), clothes going into the dryer (“It’s gonna be warm but you can handle it.”) and coming out (See, you look swell.”).  So, the talking to flowers part wasn’t a shock. The rest? Well, what do you expect when I’m allowed out of the house on a blistering Sunday afternoon in basketball shorts whistling musical theater numbers?  

It all started when I was in the kitchen making lunch with Briscoe the Beagle who was standing by in case things got crazy and food fell on the floor. After sidestepping around her a few times, I started singing “Shall We Dance” from The King and I. The earworm promptly got lodged in my cerebral cortex with the repeat button activated.  By the time I grabbed my keys and danced out the door, the volume was on silent but the song continued on.  Sing it with me:

Shall we dance?
On a bright cloud of music,
Shall we fly?
Shall we dance?
Shall we then say “goodnight” and mean “goodbye?”
Or perchance...
When the last little star has left the sky,
Shall we still be together with our arms around each other,
And shall you be my new romance?
On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen,
Shall we dance? Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?

  © 1951, Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers

Impressively, I remembered every word of the song. What did I forget?  That Mechanicsville (the nearest town with stores) is home to roughly 3 kabillion Christian churches which all release their congregants sometime around noon each Sunday.  It was one of the few ninety degree days we’ve had this summer, and I arrived at the store wearing shorts and a T-shirt, whistling softly with a list that included veggies for dinner, treats for beagles, and some fresh cut flowers to go beside the Buddha in our kitchen. 

Kroger was packed with over-dressed, word-weary, cranky people.  One woman pushed my cart out of her way while I was picking out flowers. Another man was angrily muttering and sticking his arm in front of me when I stopped in front of the apples to see if they were on list.  I didn’t complain. I got it. They were hot, they were tired, their “day of rest” was nowhere near peaceful, and there wasn’t enough room for anyone to breathe, think, or be.  No time for manners. No space for patience.  Here was this smiling, bouncing (my secret dancing looks a lot like I’m on an invisible pogo stick), heathen in shorts and sandals in the middle of things. It was all too much.

Somehow, I made it to my car in one piece.  A nice SUV with one of those PRAY bumper stickers was parked beside me. I opened the trunk, blocking my view from that side and obscuring a sharp-dressed dad, skirt and heels mom, and 2 middle-schoolers who were exiting their vehicle. At that moment, all I was thinking about (besides that song) was whether to put the cut flowers in the front seat with me or keep them in the back with the groceries.  I found a safe looking niche and nestled them in.

     “I know it’s hot in here, and there’s some scary water jugs, but it’s a short ride and I think you’ll do fine,” I said to the flowers. “You aren’t just any flowers. When you get home you will be an offering for the Buddha! You’ll sit right beside him. How awesome is that?” 

     “UGH!” The Christian woman said, loudly. It was my first inclination anyone was nearby. I put down the trunk to discover myself face-to-face with her.  She looked straight at me, her lips curled in disgust as she frowned. She had a cross around her neck. I had a mala dangling from my wrist. I smiled. She gave me a hissing sigh, rolled her eyes, then put her arm on the back of one of her kids and guided them hurriedly away as if the car may explode at any moment, burying her in lotus petals and compassion. 

Shall we then say “goodnight” and mean “goodbye”?

I would love to say I’m so thick-skinned and self-assured that her judgy rejection slid off me like cookies on a non-stick sheet. But it didn’t. I felt the sting.  Even when I started singing loudly on the way home I was covered in the residue of her derision. My good humor remained, but it was tempered with those feelings you get when you've been put on notice that you are outside of the lines.

I started thinking about the “Pray” on her car. Who did she pray for? Her kids, her friends, her marriage, for sure.  World peace, job security, sick relatives, and safe travel? Possibly. Would she pray for me?  Not likely. And if she did – would she pray for me to be happy, healthy and loved? No. If she did, she’d probably pray for me to change, to “see a light,” to become who she thought I should be. As it was, I’m reasonably sure I took up very little space in her consciousness once she voiced her opinion and guided her children away. I was thinking about her, but she had long since left me.  I thought, “Goodnight.”  She meant, from the moment she saw me, “Goodbye.”

In one moment of interaction we got to experience the truth about “tolerance” versus “acceptance.”  I see the “Teach Tolerance” bumper stickers a lot (and their more friendly cousin – Coexist). I hear the pleas and language of tolerance in many places, and it has always been as unsatisfying to me as cotton candy for dinner. Even "coexist" doesn’t provide long-term nourishment. I didn’t know why until I sorted through my feelings about this experience.

Tolerance means she didn’t stab me in the parking lot.  She didn’t call security to have me removed, or stop and force me to confess (she thinks) it is wrong to offer anything to Buddha.  She tolerated my presence for the few moments my circle met hers, non-verbally expressed her opinion, and left. We co-existed in that hot humid space. Not peacefully, not happily, but functionally.  

Or Perchance…

What would acceptance look like? In this briefest of moments, would it look like a smile?  A nod? A murmured “hello” as two strangers found themselves face to face?  At best, it would be a neutral space between us, with nothing but air and acknowledgement of another sentient being at close range. Acceptance would have offered her a chance to save energy. There wouldn't need to be display of displeasure. She wouldn’t have to draw a line between us. She wouldn’t need to scurry away. She could just be. Acceptance doesn't mean you approve. It means you understand the value of the person with you to make their own decisions about life/faith/being.

And then, the mirror turns just long enough to let me know she’s not the only one who could have saved some energy that day.  I am sad she doesn’t understand that flowers for my kitchen Buddha give us such joy and brighten the whole room; that we aren’t engaged in worshiping a false god. We aren’t worshiping anyone.  We are showing our gratitude for teachings that make our life better, and respect for the teacher. It’s not really different than taking an apple to the lady who leads your Sunday School class. And yet, I am aware she is also sad – in a mask of offense/anger – that I don’t recognize or follow her life-honored belief that Jesus is the only way and the only one. 

Truth is – I had the same feelings about her “Pray” bumper sticker as she had about my flowers.  I just waited to get in the car before rolling my eyes.  If acceptance is the lesson, I need to slot myself in the student’s seat, not behind the teacher’s desk. In fact, we all do. Acceptance – recognizing someone’s sovereignty of belief, and dignity of being – frees us from not only the walls built by judgment, but the energy spent on ill will, the time lost to replaying the episode, and the illusion that we are disconnected.  Acceptance allows us to remember we are all in this together.

That’s the difference.  Tolerance is a space you give to others.  Acceptance is a gift you give to yourself which allows you to see the ties between us, no matter how different we are.  Tolerance may spare you from discord but acceptance keeps you from being alone.  

Acceptance is an acquired behavior in our fractured world. Before it becomes a reflex, it will require some exercise, repetition, and reflection.  To be who you are in the world, and letting others be themselves as well, is a treasure way worth the effort.  I’m willing to try. How about you?

With the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen,

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

For More Information

There are a number of sources about dharma:

Sing Along:

Shall We Dance

Perspectives

Interconnectedness

By the Book

The Leader's Way: Business, Buddhism and Happiness in an Interconnected World by HH Dalai Lama XIV

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Acceptance:

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

Melody Beattie