Should I talk, or stay silent?

Peter: I’m noticing that you seem to be spending a fair amount of time waiting for something to happen. I’m sure you can recognize the energy of waiting. You are waiting for something to come along. It could be a stimulating conversation, a state of bliss, lunch, or the end of the day. It is quite easy to recognize this experience. It is accompanied by thoughts such as: “How much longer will it take,” “I wonder what IT will be like,” and “I think I’m getting closer”. It is also interesting to note that many psychological and spiritual systems lay out a sign-posted path leading to their goal but they all seem to omit reference to the “path of waiting.” This is a little surprising given how much time we spend on this path.

Participant: So I’m appreciating how we create this sense of “waiting” and I can see how I’ve been basically doing this in one form or another for a hell of a long time. Is there an alternative to waiting?

Peter: Sure. The alternative is not waiting, which you also experience from time to time. Wait- ing is familiar. And “getting it” is familiar. While you were waiting a minute ago-before I opened my mouth-right now you aren’t waiting. This new conversation has displaced the experience of waiting.


Participant: Now I notice that I’ve started waiting again.

Peter: And that moving to interrupt the silence has again displaced the waiting. Of course, it can also work the other way around. If a converation is boring, you end up waiting for it to stop or become more interesting.

Right now though, you are becoming familiar with a space within which we’re no longer waiting, nor figuring that we’ve arrived. There is no heavy preoccupation with something which is about to happen. We’re not caught up in a story about when it is going to happen, nor are we in an experience of celebrating that this is it! “Finally! At last it’s come to fruition! I’ve got it.”

Penny: And you’ll also notice as you listen to what Peter is saying that you can feel an impulse to construct this as something worth getting. As soon as I distinguish a way of being in which we are not thinking that we need to wait or don’t need to wait — it’s very easy to figure that we haven’t got it, and then we can begin wondering, and waiting to see, whether it will ever happen.

Participant: Why is there a need to language this space at all? I have a sense of what it is. And I can leave it at that.

Penny: I appreciate what you’re saying. What can happen is that you can want to “simply experience” this space without the supposed interference of language. In our experience there’s a sort of a delicate dance around language. We can acquire a skill in terms of sensing when and where to create and dissolve distinctions. Participant: But until we reach this space we’ll still have this waiting, won’t we?

Penny: From one angle you can see how this could be valid for as soon as we language an experience we set up “having” and “not having”it. We can then judge that we aren’t enjoying a particular experience, and so we end up doing more waiting. Even if we are trying to actively pro- duce the experience, we are still in a “waiting mode” because we are hanging out for a time when we can just enjoy the goal we are pursuing. But on the other hand, if we don’t distinguish this state from others we can continue to spend our lives waiting to be somewhere else.


Participant: So right now I feel like I’d like to say something, but I don’t know if this is going to open up or close down this space-which I’m actually really enjoying.

Peter: In terms of creating this space we need to be sensitive to the impact of our speaking and not speaking, since at this point this space can be created and destroyed by both speech and silence. For example, we can create a new space, a fresh perspective, through a conversation and begin to analyze and interpret what is happening in a way that closes down this freshness and spaciousness. Alternatively, we can get stuck in a belief that this space can’t be described or pointed to. The space can silence us. By relating to this as something special or even sacred we lose the opportunity to appreciate this construction because we don’t want to think about it, or talk about it. Also, we can’t explore how this space can be created and re-created through skillful dialogue.

Participant: Who is responsible for managing the balance between talking and silence?


Peter: No one person is responsible. This is why you sometimes experience that your questions drift through this space without receiving an answer, and why it sometimes takes time before we respond. We aren’t playing around with you. Rather, we are just listening and reponding to the creative dimensions of both speech and silence.

Participant: So this feels tricky. Like I don’t really know when to talk or be silent.

Penny: It seems to me that you are wanting a recipe for modelling what is happening. It’s like there’s some recipe here, and if I could only understand how to do this, then it will make a differ- ence. So what seems to happen, at a habitual, unconscious level is that we fall into trying to work it out-because we have a core belief that there is some way of being that’s going to be right. We believe that there is something to do, and there is a way of doing it that is going to give us some result. Right now I guess there is an opportunity to become more finely attuned to the listening we personally bring to things that are being spoken.

Peter: You see, in a sense, what we are doing here is creating nothing. Why do I say creating nothing? Because, what is it? Nothing. It’s creating something, but it’s not something that you can point to. Alternatively, you could say it is creating what is, which already is so you don’t have to create it. Because from that point of view we’re not doing anything. And somehow creating nothing requires a lot more skill than creating something. Because if it is “nothing” it is very easy to regard this whole exercise as absurd or crazy. There is also a great temptation to make nothing into something.

Participant: My sense is that we can’t use language here. That language shuts off the possibil- ity of experiencing what we are talking about.

Peter: There is something in what you are saying. But it’s a generalization to say that it’s the function of language. If I said nothing this afternoon, or nothing in this last thirty minutes, we would not be where we are now. We would not be disclosing this. We would be more likely to be in the type of state that’s produced by meditation, which is a more personal space, appreciating the work of feelings and so on, rather than this space which is in some ways more transpersonal. That’s what I’m saying-it’s more delicate-language can sort of work in two different directions.

Participant: What you are describing sounds very difficult. It feels as though I have to be very careful about when I talk, and what I actually say. I could see myself becoming paranoid about this.

Penny: Well, you also need to watch if you are becoming fixated about cultivating or describ- ing this space. You see, we are beginning to relate to this space as though it actually is something that can be created and destroyed.

Peter: What space is it that you are worried about destroying?

Participant: This space!

Peter: What do you mean, “This space”?

Participant: I don’t know.


Adapted from a dialogue in Gembrook, Australia, August 1994.

Peter Fenner

About Peter Fenner

Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom and Founder of Timeless Wisdom, a California nonprofit. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy. He created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.Peter also offers retreats on 4 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa. Stay in touch: • Join Peter Fenner's network on LinkedIn • Like his page on Facebook
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