The sound of silence


Our world is noisy at the moment. Cogent discourse, insight, and illumination can now find themselves overshadowed and over-shouted by who knows what? Opportunities to learn, to grow, and to heal remain as strong and abundant as ever, yet unfavorable conditions created by the overwhelming abundance of noise can make moving on these opportunities–and even seeing them–more difficult. And while there’s been plenty of commentary on the clamorous situation at hand, from every conceivable side, in the end, these, too, regrettably, contribute in unhelpful ways to the noise.

It’s the distinguishing feature of our mammalian species to be able to use words in the service of solving problems, to better understand, connect, and expand. What happens, though, when our words–in private spheres, including in our conversations with ourselves, but as important now, in our public arenas–find themselves appropriated by the reptilian angels of our nature? What can help?

One possibility might be a retreat into silence, stepping away from the cacophony of words that comprise the surface-level noise within and without, drawing inward to that core of deep and abiding silence that resides within all of us, wordless, that quintessential well from which we all sprang. This doesn’t require an extended getaway to some exotic destination for sanctuary, inconceivable for many now in any event. Rather, it’s something of a practice to discover within the center your own being a kind of retreat house, a reliable haven that offers comfort, peace, and quiet which can serve as a fortress and a fortification for whatever lies on the road ahead. Stillness is our native land. Silence, our native tongue.

The Quakers hold that we should speak only if we can improve upon the silence. I’ll let John O’Donohue have the final word:

In post-modern culture, the ceaseless din of chatter has threatened to kill our acquaintance with silence. Consequently, we are stressed and anxious. Silence is a fascinating presence. Silence is shy; it is patient and never draws attention to itself. Without the presence of silence, no word could ever be said or heard. Our thoughts constantly call up new words. We become so taken with words that we barely notice the silence, but the silence is always there. The best words are born in the fecund silence that minds the mystery.