Sunday, April 3, 2011


“Don’t speak unless your words will improve the silence.”
For the past three days laryngitis has made it nearly impossible for me to speak. The few words that I do manage to croak out loud hurt my throat.
Despite my tender vocal chords, Sarah and I were faithful to our planned social engagements: yesterday’s group kayak outing on the Laguna de Sebastopol followed by a picnic at the Balletto winery, and today’s opening of the Sebastopol Farm Market at the town plaza. We agreed that Sarah would talk for me. She told my stories about the stress at work that spawned this malady. As she told them, I noticed how she tinted my stories just slightly, but enough so that they became her stories, not mine.
My laryngitis has reminded me of two things:

  • The great spiritual teachers are too dead to talk. Their greatness derives in no small part because they are not here to correct us when we inject into their teachings our own (mis)interpretations. Isn’t it like us to find our own retellings particularly satisfying, agreeable, and meaningful?
  • The first independent steps on my spiritual journey took me into a Quaker Meeting Hall where people worship together in silence. I have since gone on many silent spiritual retreats, mostly Buddhist, where I have come to appreciate, keenly, that the third step along the Noble Eightfold Path is Wise Speech. Wise Speech is mostly about refraining from speech.
The wordless flower sermon was one of the Buddha’s most memorable Dharma talks. Perhaps the Enlightened One simply had laryngitis that day.

The Laguna


steven said...

hi dan. the loss of the ability to speak - well it's so common among teachers that i have to assume there's some sort of larger purpose to it!! however, you have the capacity of your inner voice as is evidenced by your conintued efforts to share your emergence into mindfulness. the letter you published saddened me especially because it is more reflective of the author than the subject. happily, it allowed me to make several decisions that have been hovering for some time. so thankyou. steven

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, steven. I've known for a long time that teachers suffer from ailments of the larynx much more than the general population. I'm told that it's due to the fact we talk so much on the job, but I wonder, as you seem to, whether there's a larger context to it. In my case, I think it was a wiser energy to keep me from talking too much about the particular cause of my stress last week. With regard to the letter (by which I think you mean the first comment) I'm a bit confused, as I say in my response.

neighbor said...


sorry your throat is causing you pain. The sore throat that accompanies the many colds my kids share with me is always my worst nightmare. Must be my weak spot and so I empathize thoroughly.

Rest well - and don't make up for laryngitis with increased typing, that leads to its own problems!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, neighbor, thank you for your empathy. Probably the hardest part for me isn't the pain, but the social awkwardness of not being able to talk when people expect me to. How perceptive of you to guess that I might try to compensate for my not talking with a keyboard. I'd have to admit I do tend to do just that. And I ought to know better.

Ruth said...

Silence is much underappreciated, although when it is due to laryngitis, that isn't pleasant. I rarely put music on when I am alone, because I enjoy the quiet so much.

I hope your throat heals soon.

Tess Kincaid said...

Sometimes silence really is golden. Hope you're feeling better soon!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Ruth, thank you. Like you, I've come to appreciate silence more and more. As my interior dialogue has settled down, I enjoy it more and more. Where I used to play music in the background almost all the time, I don't so much now. Though today we do have the internet! I may also be putting a leash on that dog, too. Too much time on screens, if you know what I mean.

Thank you for leaving a comment.

Dan Gurney said...

Tess, I think we'd all be well-advised to take conversational advice from our dogs or cats. They get along with us quite well, but don't have all that much to say. Silence is indeed golden!

Thank you for your well wishes. I am feeling a bit better this morning, as I head off to school.

Jo said...

Feel better soon, Dan.

As I've learned from my daughter, who has studied ballet for her whole life, very complicated stories can be told without speaking a word.

Dancers learn to speak with their bodies, and a facial expressions can speak volumes.

I'm sure you've heard all the home remedies...resting probably trumps them all, though. Shhhhhh. :-)

Paul C said...

The power of silence is a counterpoint to much of the raucous noise on the media these days.

Dan Gurney said...

Jo, yes dance is one of humankind's finest non-verbal languages, with music its companion. I know some cultures the same word is used for both dance and music. Thank you. I'm trying to conserve my voice.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Paul, the media got to be too toxic for me. I only occasionally look in on the Huffington Post these days, and I can barely stand that!! so much sad, sad news these days, especially from Northern Japan.

Sabio Lantz said...

"Isn’t it like us to find our own retellings particularly satisfying, agreeable, and meaningful?"

I loved that !!!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Sabio. Thanks. Hey, by the way, I saw Monsieur Ibrahim based on your post and I loved it. Thanks for your movie reviews. We like the same sort of movie.