Saving endangered silence

Category : General advice, Philosophy 1st February 2013

Inside Yoga 67 (1/2/2013)

As our modern way of living races ahead with its busy agenda, there is something that is being squeezed out – namely, silence. It is golden as the phrase goes, and to highlight its importance a church in Sussex released a CD of silence at the end of last year and its sales have rocketed.

The recording captures the sounds at St Peter’s Church in East Blatchington, including the ambient sounds of voices in the background, footsteps and occasional background traffic noise, but mostly it’s a recording of silence.

The CD, ‘Sound of Silence’, consists of a 30-minute track with a spoken introduction by the Reverend Canon Dr Andrew Mayes, closing words, and 28 minutes of silence. And the CD’s notes describe what a rare treat silence can be in what has become a busy and noisy world.

The main aim of the project was to raise the profile of the church rather than make money. The church did not put a price on the CD but left it to people to decide what it was worth to them and make a donation.

Church technician Robin Yarnton is quoted as saying: “Mostly people have said it’s nice and they like it, and that it’s quiet and peaceful.”

This is not the first recording of silence, for example, John Cage recorded silence in his experimental work 4’33”, an experiment repeated in the music campaign Cage Against the Machine two years ago, and in 2010 the Royal British Legion also released a silent video called 2 Minute Silence.

What is interesting is how popular silence is, even though it is rather like an endangered species in our modern world. Many of us tend to squeeze silence out of existence – from the moment we wake up we fill our days with sounds as on goes music, TV or radio as we get ready to go to work, school and so on. And more sounds as we turn on the stereo in the car or put on headphones as we walk or run somewhere.

Yet should we come into contact with a little bit of silence – possibly by chance – many of us feel drawn to its calming and soothing qualities. Others can feel uncomfortable with the silence, but this is not because silence is the problem in itself. This feeling of being awkward in silence is because many of us are not used to it.

When I started meditation, in 1995, I recall the strange feeling of sitting in a quiet place and doing nothing but sitting and breathing. It did at times feel strange and I would become restless, but something in me recognised that this silence was good for me. And as I continued to practice meditation I grew to love the silence and learned that in silence I would find more clarity, a greater sense of well-being and contentment.

This was not the first time I had discovered real silence, as prior to my first meditation class I had been travelling and this included trekking and camping in wilderness locations around the world where I had enjoyed natural peace and quiet. After living in cities like London it was such a revelation to discover and find such pleasure in being in quiet and peaceful locations. I do believe silence is good for everyone, we just might be ignoring or unaware of this; or simply in denial – preferring to stick with the noisy distracted life we already know.

In the 1990s while I was travelling in Australian Outback I experienced a moment of silence that I will never forget. I was camped, with another traveller, in the semi-arid desert not far from Alice Springs. We were sitting enjoying sunset when I noticed a sudden drop in the breeze and sounds of insects (which is usually constant in the Outback). In that brief moment it was totally silent, and I emphasise “totally” – it was like we had gone into a vacuum. It was a moment of pure stillness. And it was brief – soon I head insects again.

The world might be filled with sounds, but silence can be found. Meditation helps us discover the quiet and stillness that is found within us, even if it is obscured at times by our busy mind and active lifestyles. Yes, there is silence and quietness within us! Spiritual teachings that use meditation agree with this. Meditation teachers often say that it is the layers of daily life that cover a silent place within us. As we meditate we remove these layers, rather like peeling an onion down to its core, and reach our peaceful core.

Confucius said: “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.”

And the Buddha said: “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

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