In the Monastery
I think that I get it now -- the vow of silence.
The principal deprivation that it entails is not to be deprived of the lively company and conversation of your comrades, of what the Irish call "craic." It is to be deprived of your own voice.
Your voice is the medium through which you express your individuality, your humor and pathos, your insight and humility (or else that you were not blessed with any of these things).
Losing your voice is a forced meditation, a forced looking within, a forced coming to terms with your circumstances in the world, which are the same as everyone else's, and which are not mollified by either your humor or your pathos.
Of course, there is the internal monologue that is retained, at least for a while. "I think I will give Brother Francis the rest of my bread," you might say to yourself. And in times set aside officially for meditation, the monologue may be commandeered, as in Eastern religions, by a mantra, one that may be meaningless or may be meaningful but with a certain relentlessness -- "The Lord is My God." The purpose of the mantra is to displace the internal monologue.
But if the discipline is maintained, I suspect that even the monologue is set aside. I myself would approach this condition with terror, but I am not a monk. (One of the great modern poets, Leonard Cohen, tried it out for a good while under the tutelage of a Buddhist master, but not even he was able to abandon the Word.)
If In the Beginning was the Word, then passing on to a true vow of internal silence puts one in a state prior to the beginning, which is to say of pure being with no qualities.
So what I really mean to say is that there are men and women who have vowed to pass their time in poverty and meditation. If, among them, there are those whose meditation mantra is pure and empty silence, then they are the ones who deserve to be called saints.