“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” — Eckhart Tolle
I have enjoyed the “sound” of silence for as long as I remember. Now, you need to know, I was quite the chatty kid. So much so, in fact, that my grandfather would offer to pay me a few bucks if I would stop talking for five minutes! Of course, I never made any money on this offer — I was too happy and eager to keep chatting away.
But what you need to understand is that I was an only child. Stop there for just a minute. Why are we called only children? It sounds so glass half empty. And not to mention, it rhymes with lonely. Why not say my classification is that of an only and lonely child?!
No…. I was a child by the name of Eric. Period. Did I have siblings — no. Well, not exactly. I grew up with a Cockapoo by the name of Ginger and a Lhasa Apso by the name of Muffin who we referred to as my sisters. How cool was it for me, a child of the 70’s, with two sisters named Muffin and Ginger?!? So they were dogs. If only we could have looked into the crystal ball to see what pets have now become in the family circle and the acceptance, even the pride factor of being “Pet Parents” in today’s world.
Okay…so where is all of this nonsense headed? I think it probably goes without saying that while not having people as siblings, I had the opportunity to bask in a little more quiet time. And from an early age, unconsciously, I didn’t realize how much this fueled my soul. Growing up Catholic, I had the opportunity to be pretty involved in the Church. I was an alter server (not boy — we belonged to a “progressive” parish), Eucharistic Minister, youth leader and volunteer. I believe my first “conscious” realization of truly appreciating silence was my first retreat. While there were activities throughout the weekend with a fairly decent sized group of us, we regularly sat in silence (and not always for prayer). I remember feeling rejuvenated at the end of these weekends. My soul had been filled.
Flash forward years later when I stumbled upon the book Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s a fascinating read about introversion and how so many introverts are misunderstood and even devalued. It was during the heyday of Madison Avenue and the advertising age in the 50’s and 60’s that extroversion was championed. In fact, if you weren’t an extrovert as a result of using certain products (shampoo, soap, cologne, etc.), you probably wouldn’t amount to much. Making yourself be scene was the name of the game, and those who speak first (and sometimes the most) have the greatest chance of succeeding. Hmmm… maybe that is where we started to lose our listening skills as a society — When Listen to Learn was slowly washed a-way, might even say overtaken by Listen to React.
Now I am, FOR SURE, an introvert. While my career has made my day-to-day involvement focused on others and “being on”, my personal life is much quieter. They say the difference between an extrovert and an introvert comes down to how you recharge — either by being around people or being alone. As such, I have always cherished moments of silence especially after a busy week of social engagement.
At the last company where I was employed, shortly after joining the team, I made a comment that I can drink in silence. Little did I know until a few months later that the group thought I meant that I literally (not figuratively) drink in silence. Following the epiphany, it became both a laugh as a result of the misunderstanding, but it also became a reflection point. Why? Because most of the team hadn’t thought about silence in the context of drinking it in; having it fill you up. It was viewed as more of a state of being and not harnessing the true power it brings.
In fact, stillness has a voice if you listen very carefully to it. It may not be the loudest voice in the room, but it often times is the most powerful and insightful. And funny yet, we have to have the courage to consciously invite silence into our lives. Why? Because we’re afraid of what we’re going to find, dig up, unearth, etc. when we allow this space to emerge. Noise, in essence and in all of its forms, is a narcotic that paralyzes our ability to go deep within, find answers and seek the truth about ALL.
In closing, I leave you with the profound lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel in the Sound of Silence…
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence
May we all have the desire and strength to Drink in Silence.
With Courage and Kindness,