We live in a noisy world. The growing allure of cities that never sleep, the 24/7 nature of online communities, the endless stream of echo chamber social media updates, the constant notifications and interruptions brought about by our connected devices; these make moments of true silence a scarcity, or even a rarity. Our world prides itself on being able to entertain us and hold our interest at all hours of the day with anything and everything that we may desire at the tip of our fingers. Instant messaging, same-day shipping, fast-food services; all of these reinforce the man-made belief that we are extraordinarily busy, and that any moment spent without a pressing action to take is a wasted one.
When I was younger, I read a beautiful essay titled “The eloquent sounds of silence” by Pico Iyer that spoke to me as much then as it does now, and speaks volumes on the topic. Masterfully written, the essay begins by describing the nobility and loftiness that our thoughtful selves identify with silence. Quoting Herman Melville, he begins:
“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.
[It] is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on
of the Divine Pontiff’s hands upon the world. Silence is the only Voice of our God.”
It is no accident that the greatest honor we can pay someone is a moment of silence. Sacred places are purposefully silent. Reverent places. Honored places.
When one visits the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center, one is instantly transported to a place of honor, of grave silence, of respect and admiration for those that lost their lives and to those that gave them to save another. In that silence, in that reverent space, one’s words and thoughts cease and make room for emotion and feeling to rush in. It is in falling silent that we allow ourselves to truly feel. It is in that space that the most beautiful and divine elements of humanity can be experienced.
And yet silence is something that at best eludes us and at worst terrifies us. We are constantly seeking to drown out the silence with noise. We prefer the bustle, the white noise, the incessant notifications of a busy life.
“In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think;
but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think,
and so sink below ourselves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.”
Perhaps we fear the things we cannot control. Perhaps the thought of something deeper than our consciously controlled thoughts terrifies us. Or perhaps, hopefully, our avoidance of silence is not a conscious one and is therefore one that we can remedy. Perhaps all it takes is a bit of desire and some strong intention to allow ourselves to be silent, to allow ourselves to be taken to that transcendent place that allows us to simply be.
“In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.”