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Listening to the Sound of Silence

What silence can teach us about life

Forest skyline
Photography by Annie Spratt

The maxim ‘sound of silence’ makes no secret of being an oxymoron. If the definition of silence is the absence of sound, then what does the sound of silence mean? Has there ever been a point in time when sound has been completely absent from this world? Did our ancestors ever experience silence? Surely it must have been more common than in today’s busy, fast-paced world so filled with glowing screens, click bait, and endless notifications.

When silence is extended it is known as solitude, or peace. How far have we distanced ourselves from this; including the lakes, the rivers, and the streams that nurture our inner silence? Where do we stand in relation to the fields where the flowers faithfully follow the sun in the strength of silence? How far do we choose to sit from the old tree that watched silently over us whilst we played barefoot in the grass when we were young?

Silence has become a scarcity. Our workplaces resemble zoos and circuses rather than places that foster focus and deep work. Our egos are loud and noise is often seen as the only measure of productivity. Silence is like an endangered species that, if we are not careful, we may lose and then struggle to revive. There is a breaking point though, one day we will need to tame the zoo and quieten the circus in order to yield to the sound of silence.

We can let silence back into our lives in many ways. Perhaps by experiencing a morning without an alarm, or watching the sun shining through a skylight. Maybe by observing a snail slowly traversing a garden step or by hearing the muffled noise of a train. It might be diving into a cold, deep, blue pool, gliding through the water feeling the bubbles on your face until you gasp for air. It might be the air in your lungs that makes you feel alive again or a cold breeze on wet skin.

Alas, these days, silence in not sexy and is sometimes equated to suffering. Have we demonised it in a way? Are we afraid of it? Perhaps we misconstrue silence to mean ineptitude, indolence, or inertia, rendering it a bad thing. It is true that silence can be uncomfortable. Silence is the compass that leads us to sit with the self and this is sometimes unbearable. But really silence is on our side and silence should be our friend.

Silence can bring people closer together. It is a key ingredient that forms the kind of strength that we need to get through hard times. Like a river, silence flows and offers us the banks upon which we should sit once in a while. And just listen.

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