I love silence.
I think I’d have made a pretty good nun in an enclosed order. I thought about it once, long ago. And then thought, maybe not for me! The poverty, chastity and obedience might be a struggle! But the silence, not so much. That’s the bit I was drawn towards. A community of people who live and work together but nonetheless utterly respect each other’s need for a bit of peace.
Sometimes I feel increasingly troubled by noise. Things make me jump and startle me. TV and radio when it’s on in the background can really irritate me. I either want to listen fully, or turn it off. My sensitivity to noise has been made worse by being in pain recently following an op. It’s like every sense becomes heightened when one is in pain. Hearing especially.
BKS Iyengar writes that pain is a teacher.
I think what pain has been teaching me is how much I need peace and space and quiet. I haven’t had the radio on at all much in the last few weeks. My house is so quiet. Even with 3 children. They’re generally quiet these days too. Yes, they can argue and squabble at times, but for the most part, they are quiet. I suppose that’s because they’re my children and I’ve raised them. It’s true, my boys were boisterous when they were little. Not much quiet in those days! However, they’re moving into a teenage muffle now. When my now 9 year old daughter was at nursery they were worried she had speech problems! She didn’t. She’s just the quietest of my children – and when she was very small we used to communicate really effectively with each other in a great variety of non verbal ways. We always knew what the other was thinking without saying it.
So I’ve been quiet for a few weeks. My kids have been quiet. It’s been wonderful to share quiet times with them.
Quiet is not the same as silence though. This last week I’ve been alone and it’s been even quieter. Yesterday it did spook me a bit. It was really properly silent. All day. I got upset, felt really lost in my own house, missed the children really acutely. It was just for an hour or so. But I worked through that stage and reached a new level of peace today. I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s been a rare privilege to have this time. Time to be in my own company, consult myself when I want advice. I’ve discovered that silence is very empowering. If I can be quiet and still in myself I can observe myself. See what it is that I want.
Visible silence as Rosetti so exquisitely puts it in Silent Noon, a gorgeous poem in which he celebrates the beauty and intimacy of a shared silence. Just for one ‘inarticulate hour’.
‘Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:—
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above. ‘
I love the idea that silence is something ‘dropt to us from above’.
Heaven sent, if that’s how you want to imagine it. It does feel like a gift. That’s how it’s seemed to me. Is it a gift from God as Rosetti suggests? Perhaps. It fits the narrative I guess. Genesis tells us that God existed ‘in the beginning’ in a formless void. This is before he chose to speak and break His own silence. However, before that there was just silence. It’s the default setting for the whole universe. No wonder people crave it sometimes.