Listening to Silence

Mar 3, 2013 | Field Notes

All week, as I made my way around the city, I was aware of the cacophony of sound that surrounded me. Whether it was the sound of traffic while I walked, the wailing of sirens as emergency vehicles raced by, the background music piped into stores, the cries of crows or seagulls, or the quiet hum of the refrigerator, I pondered just how omnipresent sound is in our world. Sometimes I felt annoyed at the noise, particularly if it startled me. Sometimes I simply felt pleased to be able to hear the sounds of life around me.

My attention this week to the presence of sound was piqued by my picking up the book ‘In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise’ by George Prochnik. It is a good analysis of why silence is so illusive in our world today and how sound, and noise, has become so ubiquitous. Indeed, places where silence can be found, nurtured, and respected are hard to find. The value of silence has led to a renewed appreciation of retreat and meditation centres around the world where silence is often part of the ambiance of the place.

I know that as an introvert I have a particular affinity to silence. Most times, I prefer silence and cultivate it. But, one does not need to be introverted or a monk in order to appreciate silence. Even the most extraverted person needs some silence some times.

Silence is the foundation of all speech as well as the subtle presence of the one called God. It is certainly an important part of prayer and an important part of engaged spirituality.

There are volumes of spiritual masters who talk about the benefits of silence and one would be well advised to study the masters of silence. But, more important than the study of silence is the practice of silence. Simply carving out of ten or twenty minutes of silence each day can be enough.

I find that when I taken time for silence during my day, no matter how short, I am more focused and more attentive to life as it unfolds around me. If I have allowed myself some silence, I am better able to listen to others, better able to think issues through, better able to enjoy the small things of life. For me, then, it is important to listen to silence.

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