Silence is no longer golden
In today’s world, “white noise” suffuses our office buildings; music, news and sports broadcast in public places morning to night; leaf blowers scream; cell phones track us down with their insistent rings. Our homes offer no refuge either: TVs and stereos turn on as soon as we walk into the house; the computer hums an incessant, tuneless number; we talk constantly.
Years ago, I was living overseas in a new apartment where the generator for the water tanks and pumps was just outside my bedroom window. The apartment building was occupied by nurses working around the clock.
Nighttime laundry would drain the tanks and start the generator/pumps. I was able to ignore it for a few nights but became extra sensitized to the noise that was running ALL night long. The constant noise was debilitating. To solve this, I would sneak outside before bedtime and turn it off and turn it on again once I woke up! I truly began to appreciate the power of silence for myself with this experience.
We seem to rush to fill up the silence, to cover it with some sound or another.
And yet, only in silence can we hear the voice of our heart and silence the mind.
“Silence allows us to open the door to our unconscious mind, feel the yearnings of our heart, follow the wisdom of our intuition, probe the origin of our aversions and understand the truth of our experience,” says Richard Mahler, author of Stillness: Daily Gifts of Solitude, Simplicity and Silence. “We at last get in touch with our deepest secrets, strongest passions, fondest wishes and happiest memories.”
Mahler refers not to the silence of the oppressed or fearful, the silence that hinders honest relating or the silence that utters not a word against great injustice. The power of silence that is truly golden is that which takes us off our express trains and guides us inward to a timeless well of strength and replenishment, like an abundant river whose source lies hidden in some nook among the hills. It becomes a balm for our hurried, feverish pace, a sacred rest, a truce of worries.
There was a time when one day a week was for rest. Shops were closed. We took time for church and family. At first it was wonderful to be able to take care of some errands on Sunday when shops began staying open, but now, we rush seven days a week.
Without this rest day, it is hard for anything worthwhile to catch up with us. Or, put another way, when we speak, we hear only what we already know. When we listen, we stand a chance of learning something.
American historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “Perhaps it would be a good idea, fantastic as it sounds, to muffle every telephone, halt every motor, stop all activity someday to give people a chance to ponder for a few moments on what life is all about, why they are living and what they really want.”
How can we reclaim our lost silence, our missing wilderness?
We can start by acknowledging that time spent in silence is not wasted time. Actually, silence can “pay for itself” by strengthening our inner connection, which expands not only our sense of well-being but also our sense of time.
Embrace the Power of Silence and Reconnect with Yourself
It’s also helpful to realize that embracing silence does not necessarily mean carving large blocks of time from our busy days. Simply turning off our radios and televisions more often, practicing mindfulness, stillness, or choosing when to answer the phone, can make a surprisingly big difference.
A regular practice of meditation, even for only five minutes a day, is often the most recommended silent practice—and it is powerful. But, we can incorporate silence into our everyday active lives, as well.
Suggestions for practicing active silence to reconnect with yourself:
- Develop a daily grounding practice
- Walk in silence, especially in nature. Leave the earphones behind
- Do quiet tasks by yourself or as a couple or family, such as knitting, reading, personal letter writing, journaling.
- Eat in silence. This helps us more consciously taste our food and be in gratitude. Cook in silence, too.
- Work side-by-side with others in intentional silence. This is especially effective with physical work such as gardening.
Take a bath—not a shower. No inspirational tapes, no music. Just the sound of the water as it swirls and drips.
Immersed as we are in constant sound and stimuli, the vow of silence is refreshing and needed more than ever before.
“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.” —Kahlil Gibran