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Pablo Neruda on keeping quiet

March 19, 2020

I use Pablo Neruda’s beautiful poem Keeping Quiet (A Callarse in Spanish) in my transformative leadership workshops as an exercise to help folks arrive and connect with the present moment. Normally, I will read it out loud while we are seated in circle and then slowly count to twelve, before opening up the circle to comments and reflections. It never fails to generate deep conversation about how busy we are and what would happen if we stopped for a while.

And now here we are: millions of us on lockdown, in self- or imposed quarantine, sheltering-in-place.

Not surprisingly, this poem is on my mind.

It is helping me keep perspective.

And it is helping me keep grounded.

In some of the more overwhelming moments, when I find a wave of fear or anxiety washing over me and carrying me away, I have begun a practice of stopping whatever I am doing and counting slowly to twelve. I have found it very helpful for bringing me back to the here and now and letting those waves of doubts wash over me. I invite you to give it a go….

Keeping Quiet | Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10... 11... 12

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