Since noise is increasing in all directions, the psychology of silence has taken on a special meaning. We are already so adapted to an abundance of screeching sound that we are surprised when stillness suddenly envelops us. Not that this happens very often. We begin to see that the whole question of our relation to the world, both positive and negative, centers in something like silence. So our service to the world might be simply to keep a place where there is no noise, where people can be silent together. — Thomas Merton, The Springs of Contemplation
I tend to be an early bird and a night owl, waking before others in the house and going to bed long after everyone else has fallen asleep.
My joke is that I’m at my best early and late; it’s the hours of 9–5 that trip me up.
What I find in these early and late hours is the joy of silence.
I used to resist silence.
My first act after waking up was to turn on the TV. I’d listen to the local news station, which played the same news in a never-ending loop. I gave that up 10 years ago and learned to appreciate quiet mornings.
In the evening, I would turn on the TV before I even removed my shoes and jacket. TV had been my background noise for everything since I first got my own television at age 12.
For a long time I believed it was just innocent background noise; I wasn’t always paying attention.
The truth is that I paid attention more often than I’d care to admit.
I immersed in the world of what was happening on the screen. The people there kept me company and eased my loneliness.
And they also intensified my loneliness. Because I wasn’t in those worlds. Their stories were not my life. The characters were not my friends.
Even if it was just background noise, it was noise. It interfered with my developing the only relationship that could heal my loneliness: the one with myself.
Three years ago I stopped watching TV entirely. At first the silence was uncomfortable. I was tempted to fill it with substitutes: podcasts, programs, music. These are things I enjoy and appreciate, and they offer good value for learning. I resisted filling the space.
Instead, I learned to cultivate space for silence.
The Medicine of Silence
Silence can be profound medicine. In silence, I feel my nervous system loosen its grip. Everything relaxes.
In the space of silence I eventually heard new voices: voices that speak only in whispers, that come from my inner most being, deep wisdom that yearned to be heard.
I heard the voice of my soul. And I learned to listen. I cultivated presence with my own experience.
Once I learned to listen to myself I found it easier to listen to others, to be present to others.
I suspect this is what Thomas Merton meant when he described keeping a place where there is no noise as our “service to the world.”
It’s no surprise that the great wisdom teachers and mystics speak so much about about cultivating silence. In our world today silence is becoming increasingly rare, and yet the state of the world makes it ever more necessary.
What if healing were as simple as silence?