A Case For Silence

Have you ever experienced a moment of silence? I don’t just mean quiet around you, but also quiet inside your mind. Maybe just a half a second, a gap between thoughts, a tantalizing taste…

I ask this question because I think it’s entirely possible to go a whole lifetime without a single moment of silence. But if you’ve had one glimpse that might just be enough to make you wildly addicted. I know I am.

Being an advocate for silence doesn’t mean you have to live in a secluded place though. What I’ve come to realize is that inner silence is way more powerful than anything external could ever be. In my life, I find quiet to be healing. When I go for too long without taking a breath, I slowly start to feel worse and worse almost like a chronic illness that goes unrecognized until it’s well on its way. Any longer and I start to forget what silence even felt like in the first place. But why am I telling you this? Simply put, I’m writing the words I wish I read when I was younger. Because no one ever told me to look for silence. Or why. Or even how. As a result, I’m not that great at holding silence. It comes and it goes and somedays I think it will be gone forever. But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Being Alone In Quiet — You don’t need to be alone or in a quiet place to find silence, but it does make it a lot easier. When I first started exploring the concept of inner silence, I needed to spend lots of time alone and in nature to practice the skill before adding in any other variables.

  2. Being Alone In Sound— I think level 2 is being alone in a noisy place, maybe a big city, but maybe just your neighborhood. When there’s a lot going on outside of you it’s easy to let 100% of your attention get sucked into the outside world, but in order to protect your silence, you have to save some of your attention for the job. This is the step I’m focusing on right now, but every now and then I like to make sure to dive back into nature to solidify my practice.

  3. Being With Others— And finally level 3: holding silence around other people. It’s ironic because this is the most advanced level but is also the environment we likely spend most of our time in, ergo why it can be so hard to have that first taste of silence. I myself am dreadful at maintaining silence around other people; I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a single conversation without losing 100% of my attention. But instead of being frustrated with my nascent abilities, I like to be excited that there’s another way of life out there that I have yet to experience: like a chance to read your favorite book for the first time.

I used to be obsessed with the idea of listening as I believed it to be one of the most underrated skills in modern society and one that I could do to improve. One of the first things I learned is that you aren’t really listening if you are just planning what you are going to say next. I would go so far as to say that isn’t listening at all. So for a while, I worked on quieting the conversation in my mind so I could focus 100% on the words the other person was saying. But what I failed to realize then and struggle with now, is that listening is about more than just the words being spoken. It’s also about the tone, the body language, the words not spoken, and everything else that goes into the energy behind the person in front of you. And it is impossible to listen that deeply without at least a little bit of inner silence.

I’m writing these words sitting alone on the beach in a lovely level 1 silence. Tomorrow, I’ll return to the city to work on my level 2 silence in living alone. And hopefully, if I keep practicing, I’ll get my first taste of level 3 silence and finally learn how to listen :)