My mother-in-law belongs to a Taoist temple in Singapore.
Sometimes Nepalese Buddhist monks visit her temple to lead ceremonies.
You very rarely see a Buddhist nun.
Like the monks, this nun had her head shaved.
She was wearing the same robes.
But what was unusual was that she was a tall western woman.
In fact this particular nun was an American.
When she had applied to be a nun, there was a problem.
Like all New Yorkers, she couldn’t stop talking.
Constantly telling everyone what she they should be doing.
What they were doing wrong.
What she liked, and didn’t like.
What her thoughts were on absolutely everything.
Eventually the most senior Lama gave her an ultimatum.
To become a nun she would have to be absolutely silent for three years.
Not a single word.
If she spoke, even once, she would have to go back to square one and start all over again.
Think about that, totally silent for three years.
That’s barely possible for anyone.
Which is why he made it her task.
What the Lama was effectively saying to her was “Your constant talking is a problem for us. It is very distracting.
But we don’t think it should be our problem. We think it is your problem. So you need to handle it.”
She had to control the thoughts inside her head.
Get a grip on her own feelings and emotions.
Rather than just dumping them on everyone else.
Have you ever had to sit in a meeting with someone who just couldn’t stop talking?
Every time someone else said something they had to interrupt, or add to what was said.
Even though whatever they said didn’t make anything any clearer.
Usually just the opposite.
Just a lot of extra words for no reason.
Why can’t people stop themselves talking?
Is it nerves?
Are they frightened of being left out?
I once heard someone on Desert Island Discs talking about their life.
They said the most valuable lesson they learnt at school weren’t the academic ones.
Every week they would have one hour scheduled, sitting quietly at their desk.
Learning to be alone with their thoughts.
Learning to be comfortable with themselves.
Learning it was okay to be silent.
How great is that?
Most people are frightened to be quiet.
We think there’s more power in constantly talking.
Maybe that’s why we try and dominate a meeting with more and more words.
Maybe we want to look like we’re important.
But if we wrote the way we talk, the page would be covered with so many words it would be illegible.
So why don’t we try it the other way round?
Why don’t we talk the way we write?
In writing we work out what’s essential and just say that.
Why don’t we do that with talking?
Work out the most important, powerful thing to say.
Then say it.
Then shut up.
In writing, we know words are more powerful with lots of white space around them.
Words need room to breathe.
So we’re more sparing with them.
We only use what we need.
That’s what the Lama was teaching the American nun.
Only use the words you absolutely need.
In fact, use no words at all for three years, and you’ll realise you can get along without them.
Afterwards, you’ll only say what you absolutely need to.
Then, what you say will be more powerful.
And your speaking will be more than just noise pollution.