Silence

A few days ago, Victo Dolore published Étude to Silence. It fit my emotional state exceedingly well since I had just returned from a trip that embodied silence in several forms. This post is a few variations on the theme of silence.

Victo and several commenters talked about being alone in the car and being uncomfortable with the silence that occurs when you don’t have your usual distractions–the children, the radio, music from your phone, or whatever. On the surface, to my literal little mind, given the actual meaning of the word “silence” as being without sound, this is a strange interpretation, since the car is a pretty noisy environment. But, it isn’t a lack of sound that produces the “silence,” it is the lack of distractions. The background noise in the car doesn’t count. We don’t hear that, and if we don’t hear it, it isn’t there. Without distractions, we are in silence.

I live and work at home in a variant of the silence of the car. There is no radio or tv in my workspace, no music from a computer player or Pandora; there is only fan noise from lots of computer equipment. But, mostly, I don’t hear that. I don’t listen to it, and if I don’t listen to it, it isn’t there. Then, there is the tinnitus. I don’t listen to that either, so I work in silence. For me, this “silence” is the best work environment. I could not work with audio distractions because it would be––distracting. When I play music, I find myself listening to it.

Last Saturday, the men’s ensemble I sing with performed a concert at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. Ghost Ranch is remote: 15 miles from the nearest village or small town; an hour or more from anything you could describe as a city. A place of great beauty and great silence–no cell phone coverage with my carrier; no road noise; a noisy airplane 35,000 feet away every few days. At night there is no visual noise from city lights, and you can see so many more stars than in the city. One of the great beauties of the earth available only in silence.

One of the pieces we sang was Loving Kindness by Stephen Paulus. It is a setting of a text adapted from the Digha Nikaya that begins “Put away all your hindrances, let your mind full of loving kindness pervade one quarter of the world…” You can read the text here. This is not a prescription for passive contemplation–these are acts that can only be accomplished with effort in an environment of silence.

Sunday morning we sang at a Benedictine monastery that observes the rule of silence. It is completely off the grid, 15 miles off the paved road on the side of a river valley in a place that is amazingly beautiful. They have a small church–20 visitors at their Sunday morning mass is a crowd. Our ensemble sang after the completion of the mass in a room so filled with smoke from the incense that you could barely see across it. The result was a sublime interruption of the monks’ normal silence. Combined with the surpassing beauty of the location and the chill of the spring morning, it was a perfect experience breaking the silence in just the right way. For the monks, it is a small break in the silence–not an end to it. It allows the monks to return to the silence with greater appreciation.

So, here are a few variations on the theme that highlight silence as something to be sought, rather than something to be avoided. Let the silence itself direct you to beauty. Let your mind fill with loving kindness.

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