The Sweet Sounds of Silence
“It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it starts knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.” (K.T. Jong)
Throughout history, each generation has defined itself in its own unique way with the result that social critics and historians have found it necessary to identify the different eras, periods and groups for which they are best remembered.
For example, in the previous century, Aldous Huxley, writing during the 1940’s, referred to his century as the ‘age of noise!’ “The radio,” he said, “is nothing but a conduit through which prefabricated din can flow into our homes.” If noise was such an issue back then, how much more so has it become today with the explosion of modern technology?
Living in a busy and frenetic twenty-first century, no one, it seems, can escape from the constant, hectic, cacophony of noise which even our grandparents could ever have imagined. Silence is fast becoming a lost art.
Everywhere we go, we are assaulted by loud unwanted sounds clamoring for our attention. Some are part and parcel of our daily lives such as traffic noises, which are a paramount offender. Be on public transport, in medical waiting rooms, restaurants, shopping centres, etc. and we will inevitably find ourselves within earshot of some form of extraneous noise.
Silence has become a phantom memory for many and a precious gift for seekers.
Instead, we have created a cultural acceptance of noise despite the fact it is affecting many of us physically and psychologically. Current research shows direct links between noise and many serious health issues.
It has been said that noise is an indiscriminate pollutant – highly hypnotic but toxic! A life filled with noise is a life without relief or permission to simply be.
Years ago, Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song, ‘The Sounds of Silence.’ The words are both haunting and prophetic…..”Ten thousand people maybe more…. People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening; writing songs that voices never shared, because no-one dared disturb the sound of silence…” What has happened to those ‘Sounds of Silence?’ Why are we afraid of being alone in silence?
These days it is too easy to drown out the presence of silence. Just click a button on any electronic gadget and you’ve got immediate noise. Many people, especially young people, for example, feel compelled to listen to loud music while they are studying.
I believe the younger generation has a much more difficult time escaping noise in an environment over-saturated with electronic entertainment. But then I ask myself has the younger generation become so addicted to noise they use it as a means to escape from the magic of silence? Maybe that’s a generational difference?
Without regular periods of silence in our lives, we may often experience uncomfortable feelings of emptiness and isolation without knowing the reason why. No wonder so many of the population needs anti-depressants to help them cope with their anxiety.
Again, we need to draw on the wisdom of Simon and Garfunkel. We need to slow down when we find ourselves drowning in a noisy torrent of our own thoughts, confusion and emotions.
Fortunately, there is something we can do to overcome this problem. It won’t be easy because of the numerous forces, both internal and external pulling us in all directions. We need to make every effort, on a daily basis, to step off the noisy treadmill of life and to bring ourselves back to the present moment. We need to realize that embracing silence is much more than stopping occasionally to smell the roses.
St. Francis de Sales offered a number of insights on reducing the pressure we experience in our lives, many of which focused on the importance of prayer. One of my favourites is: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy. Then a full hour is needed!”
Being still means we’re no longer avoiding the silence around us. It’s our own precious time for reflection and prayer. Time spent alone – with ourselves and with our God – is the most valuable part of our day.
In the Book of Kings, when Elijah sought God on a mountain, he found him not in the strong wind, nor in a tremendous earthquake, nor in a raging fire. Instead, God came to Elijah in a ‘still, small voice,’ a voice that we can best hear, when we too make time for silence.
The Gospels point out how Jesus understood this need very clearly. Frequently, we read how he would take himself off to a lonely place to pray. If Jesus needed the time to get away to re-charge his batteries, then how much more do we?