More Silence, More Peace

The ancients knew there were many times of the year – and in our lives, that signaled a time to slow down.  These were the hours and days for quiet reflection.  Clearly, those days are over in “modern times.”  The reality of  life today is the amount of time reserved for rest has diminished dramatically.

Another “casualty” of modern life is quiet. Amidst the noise pollution and endless distractions (many self-inflicted) silence is becoming a rarity in 21st century life.
So rare is real silence that many people cannot even tolerate it. The void of silence must be filled with sound to keep ourselves from ourselves.  A family in a van passed me in the street yesterday with a giant TV screen in the center of the back row – we learn early now – always stay occupied.

Studies show that a chronic lack of quiet works on the nervous system, interfering with sleep, the ability to concentrate, triggering impatience and suppressing immunity.  Noise is weakening our strengths.  We never recharge, replenish, restore.

Taking in the advice of doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists, acoustic engineers, monks, educators and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik, author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, writes, “We’re never going to make progress towards creating a quieter world until we learn to understand our secret love affair with noise. Part of what we have to recognize is that noise is a compelling stimulant. This noise can be addictive and adding your own din into the mix can become a way of exerting control. Stepping back from all the stimulation is not easy, but it can be done.”

So to bring more pockets of quiet and rest into your life, consider these three questions:

How much quiet exists in my daily life? 

How do I use noise as a distraction from my thoughts and feelings? (the latter being the key) 

How much quiet do I want to have in my life going forward?

The poet Longfellow wrote, “Silence is a great peacemaker.” This can be true, once we learn to allow it and discover the richness that silence and solitude can enable.

Speaking of poets, those explorers of the realms of silence, we find such wisdom from the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda~


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)

Louise Altman,  Intentional Communication Consultants
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