Today Maya Angelou left her body. Within minutes of her passing the noise began ― a tweet, then two, then a million; magazine editors rushed to prepare the special memorial edition; news anchors stopped and began an endless eulogy trying to convey in sentences the life of a woman whose words touched our souls … you understand what I’m saying: it got really noisy.
And I am no exception to the rule. I joined the fray and wrote some words of my own on Twitter – “@Thejasongarner Not because of the words she wrote- but by the way those words dance in our hearts and inspire our souls- she touches us still #MayaAngelou.” I felt proud of myself for having captured her effect on my life in a few eloquent words.
Then something happened … I took a breath and I read and experienced the words I had written … and I felt like a hypocrite. Because to experience what I had described, words dancing in my heart and inspiring my soul, requires a quiet, calm, silent state in which we leave our thoughts behind and journey to the heart. What I had done was to add more words, and noise, to an already noisy experience that resembled very little the heartfelt words of the woman we were all remembering.
I went to a concert recently. The music lover in me runs deep, and despite not being in the concert industry any longer I still find it irresistible to be around great artists. So I went to see my friends, Deva Premal and Miten, who sing ancient chants with musical perfection and beautiful grace. After performing the first song the audience clapped … normal right? But Deva did something I have never seen in the over 100,000 concerts I was part of producing over my career: she calmly took the microphone and said, “We are here to give each other the gift of silence. We find that silence in the moments following the chants. And in the silence we find each other.” After that no one clapped. Instead we sang together and then sat quietly, 3,000 people united in the gift of silent togetherness.
I was remembering that concert and Deva’s words today as I contemplated the rising noise of Maya Angelou’s passing. Tweet after tweet, message after message, more elaborate memoriam after memoriam … an entire global community trapped in our intellect and words while claiming to remember a woman whose lifetime of writing had shown us the path to our hearts.
I have lived this myself through the sudden death of my mother from cancer five years ago. My mom was not famous, but she was deeply loved. She was a day-care teacher, a woman whose daily hugs were the highlight for the children she cared for ― the nightly line around the school to get a hug from Grandma Sue-Sue was evidence of the meaning of those hugs. As was the fact that all those children ― young and old ― came to say goodbye when she died. And it was noisy. For me, that funeral wasn’t goodbye though, it was the beginning of an ever-deepening relationship with my mom. It began a connection that flourishes in my heart to this day and tickles my soul the way my mom used to skittle my back when she tucked me in. I find my mom often in the silent solitude of the morning sunrise, in the gentle evening waves at the beach, and in the simple deep breaths I take often to reconnect to my heart. Her love is with me always ― not in words, but in the quiet place we share.
And so today, wherever you are right now, I invite us all to give ourselves this gift of silence. Remember the way Maya Angelou touched your heart, recall her dignified grace at the inauguration of President Clinton, or use her inspiration now to remember someone you love who has passed.
Find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, and just take a few breaths. Don’t worry about doing it right, just breathe in and out and allow the silence to come. At first it won’t. Random thoughts will taunt you with their nonsensical nature, and that’s okay. Let them be, let yourself just be … and breathe. Place your attention instead on your heart. Experience your breath filling your heart on the inhale and emptying on the exhale. Filling with the warm love of all the people you love who have passed on and emptying out all of the noise of the day. Allow your mind to be as it is and just focus on your heart. Experience the beautiful glow of surrender that surrounds your heart, like a halo, and just breathe and feel the love.
When you feel ready, gently come back to your surroundings and read this passage:
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”
Today take many moments of silence … for Maya Angelou, the angel who inspired us so, and for ourselves as we learn self-inspiration. Through our breath we find the path from our minds to our hearts. In our hearts we find the silent, peaceful calm in which all love exists. And in silence we find the hope that is hidden in the pain of death.
Big hugs of love,