A few days ago, I decided to spend an entire day in silence. Between waking up at 5:30 to journey to the Tonle Sap, and our celebratory dinner scheduled with the Ly family later that evening, I would not speak a word to anyone. Though this particular day itself was somewhat arbitrarily chosen, our relative lack of scheduled activities on the daily syllabus left me exactly the space I needed to detach from the external world and turn my gaze inward. I would not respond, engage, or contribute. I would be spectrally present. I would self-consciously and selfishly concern myself not with the plights of Cambodia, massive global social issues, or theoretical frameworks for addressing the politics of development. No, less nobly, I instead focus on myself. At this halfway point in our time in Cambodia, I pause for a deep breath. My deliberate insulation from and compartmentalization of everything swirling around me is surely a coping mechanism. On this particular day, silence was my way of saying “on holiday, be back soon.” I needed space to think not act, sit still instead of jumping forward, listen instead of talking, and take care of myself before anyone else. It is something we all need to do in our own ways. You cannot be perpetually ‘on.’ We all seek refuge from the overstimulation of daily life, existential contradictions, and things-just-too-big-to-really-think-about-right-now-ok… We all crave the privacy in the crevices of our minds. We maintain our own mental health as the foundation for effective work with the rest of the world. Whether through daily exercise, silent meditation, a much-needed drink, or a private journal, all of us retreat somewhere. We all seek catharsis. We all seek silence.
So, instead of giving you a cliché laundry list of ‘what I learned,’ I want to tell you about a daydream I had in the final hours of my silence. Three main characters: girl I have a crush on, older male role model I greatly admire and will probably never see again, and high school friend with whom I’ve fallen out of touch. All three, none of whom have anything in common other than my inability to honestly tell them how I feel, are scattered along the Siem Reap riverfront. As I run along the river, each joins me, moving together towards some unknown destination. By the time I wake up, I have kissed the girl, broken down in tears to the role model, and reconnected with the friend. It feels so real, yet, I wake up. Silenced.
You tell me what it means.
Some things just can’t be expressed. We try so hard to articulate the abstract, rationalize inexplicable intuition, elucidate aesthetic beauty, understand the emotional, and institutionalize the spiritual. Can’t we enjoy certain private relationships between ourselves and the universe? Why must we insist on having something important to say? The second it leaves your mind it’s no longer what you meant anyways. The moment it leaves your mouth your unique individuality becomes public domain. Yet, here I am, blabbering away as if you get it. Really. There is purity in what is yours. There is truth in silence.