The Sounds of Silence
“To hear, one must be silent.” ~Ursula K. Leguine
After more than two weeks of solitude, interrupted only by calls from coaching clients and friends, I have basked in the sort of silence one finds alone on an island: the chirping of birds and scurrying of squirrels and chipmunks; the lapping of the waves against a rocky shore; the wind whooshing through soaring pine trees; the call of the loons and night owls; the frenetic flapping of duck, goose, and swans winging their way past the porch.
There’s certain kind of silence to be found in nature, but it is certainly not empty of sounds.
After a week, I began to really listen to the sounds of silence in which I was immersed—to listen through it.
And there came an evening, after a big storm, when even nature quieted to a level of silence that bordered on a sort of void, a heavy cloud of darkness, of nothingness.
Not a bird, or branch, or wind, or wave to be heard.
The emptiness was all encompassing, and, for me in that moment, an invitation to a deeper kind of silence: stillness.
After two weeks of sinking into that state of being—where the mind slows and the heart opens— I was released from quarantine, just as the province of Ontario began relaxing its lockdown restrictions.
So, I made my way to a grocery store in the largest city nearby—by boat and then car—to restock my paltry pantry.
And I noticed two things.
First: how familiar it felt to be back in the hustle and bustle of human beings moving about in the store.
Second: how loud everything seemed.
Everything sounded painfully loud to me: the cars on the road, the people in the store, the intrusive phone conversations, the beeping of machines, the dings and rings and bells and brakes.
I was aware of conflicting feelings: gratitude to be able to go inside a store and shop; crazy anxious to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Away from the movement, the noise, and back to the sounds of silence.
“The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace.” ~Proverb
It is no wonder that we have become disconnected as a globe, as political parties, educational and medical and institutional systems come apart at the seams.
I suspect we’d do a better job of repairing those systems if each of us, individually, spent more time listening to ourselves and less time looking at our phones.
We crowd out silence, elbow it away, afraid of what it might reveal, of what we might think, or feel, or do.
It has been my experience–over decades of deeply personal work with countless numbers of folks–that most people are afraid of what they don’t know, and most especially what they don’t know about themselves.
It has also been my experience that silence is, as philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “the element in which great things fashion themselves together.”
It’s where you can find answers to the most important questions.
The questions that keep you awake at night, keep you glued to a screen, keep your mind running and your heart hurting.
You want answers?
Listen to the quiet. Listen through the quiet.
Answers: they’re inside you.
If you’re quiet long enough to hear them.
“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” ~Francis Bacon