Finding truth in silence
We life in a noisy world. So noisy, in fact, that acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has called silence an endangered species. He reckons that there are only 12 places left in the United States where you can find at least 15 minutes a day free from man-made sounds.
Of course, the cacophony of modern-day life is constantly reinforced and excused by our habits. Our silences are eagerly filled with lunch-time conversations, Netflix shows, podcast episodes and audio-books. And when the only background noise is the traffic outside, we quickly grab our mobile phones to tune out the vast nothingness that washes over us in the absence of noise. It is as if somewhere along the line we have begun to fear silence.
But what if we sat with silence for a little while?
Turn up the inner volume
Once you remove yourself from the noise and distraction around you, the volume of your inner world will be turned up. If you have ever attempted a meditation practice, you will be very familiar with this phenomenon. Thoughts start racing through your mind and bodily aches take up a central space in your awareness.
The reason so many people hesitate to turn up their inner volume is because it can be deeply uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to sit with doubt. Uncomfortable to sit with regret. Uncomfortable to sit with all the worries and woes that bubble to the surface in the sea of silence.
Silence – whether in the form of meditation or simply removing distractions – doesn’t promise bliss and happiness. Quite the opposite. As Pico Iyer wrote in his book The Art of Stillness, ‘anyone who longs to see the light is signing on for many long nights alone in the dark.’
You cannot find peace of mind until you first, in some sense, renounce it. That is the paradox of silence. By promising you nothing, it gives you everything.
The truth doesn’t scream
Truth doesn’t scream. It is a subtle, fleeting whispering and requires a great deal of attention – in silence – to be detected even in its faintest form.
But when you do pick up a sliver of truth, it is delicious and exquisite and deeply transformative.
Although sitting in silence is often uncomfortable, there is so much truth to be found in the depths of solitude. Silence doesn’t answer all your questions, but rather takes you to where you cannot ask any further questions.
When your mind is still – even for a single moment - the whole universe surrenders to your feet. You understand everything and nothing, simultaneously and synchronously.
I have tasted the riches of silence from time to time, but the more I read about people who devoted their entire lives to silence – Emilie Dickinson, Henry Thoreau, Leonard Cohen, Sara Maitland -, the more curious I become about climbing further into silence to explore the various shades of truth that can be found there.
If nothing else, silence is a way to unload the mind and draw ourselves closer to the core of life. If nothing else, perhaps we can see merit in Pablo Neruda’s inviting question:
“What 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.”
To learn more about silence, check out these resources below:
7 gentle prompts to becoming a mental minimalist (My free eBook on simplicity & solitude)
Sara Maitland – A Book of Silence (Book)
Gordon Hempton – Silence and the Presence of Everything (On Being Podcast Episode)