One of our greatest fears is silence.
We run from it: in our lounge-rooms, in our cars, in our workplaces, in our conversations. In every place you will notice our habit of drowning out the dreaded silence with noise and stimulation. It’s like the grim reaper or a dark omen that follows us around eternally. Many of us don’t realize it. Many of us live under a veil of oblivion, not realizing how afraid we are to be in silence and stillness with ourselves. We will turn up our stereos. We’ll turn on our iPod’s or phones. We’ll turn on the radio or the TV. We will find anything to fill that void of emptiness. And constantly, we’ll pollute ourselves with noise and stimulants, that numb our minds so that we live our worlds in a thoughtless dream-like state.
Silence makes us uncomfortable. We may even argue that it bores us to embrace that silence. But what really bothers us is ourselves: we don’t know what to do with ourselves, or what to think, or even who we are. Eventually we find that it’s not the silence we’re uncomfortable with, but ourselves.
I discovered this recently on a visit I made to a small island in the Indian Ocean. The island has no allowance for cars, only bikes, and has a very small population. Many parts were deserted, and it was in the middle of that island near a salt lake that I sat and let myself listen to nothing. There was literally not one sound – everything was as still as death – not one car, or person, or slight noise from an animal, for many minutes. I was suddenly engulfed by this silence, it was like falling through an abyss. I struggled to cling to something, to find some kind of sound to distract myself. The depth of the silence was both unnerving and bewildering. We rarely get to experience complete silence, and when we do we become uneasy and obsessive to distract our minds – like I did. Suddenly I felt very alone in the middle of that island.
When we hear nothing our minds are stilled, and because we are used to so much stimulation from the outside world, we become spooked. We’ve stepped into alien territory, one where we don’t know how to operate. It’s as though our minds have stomachs, and when all the greasy clutter is emptied, we starve.
Once I sat on that island for a few minutes, and the shock of such heavy silence subsided, I began feeling light. The silence helped to unburden, pacify and soothe me like nothing else could. Once I embraced that deafening silence my mind became open to meaningful thought. I became introspective and inquisitive, wondering amongst many things why silence is so avoided.
The solitude experienced in silence is one of the most natural and simple, yet frequently avoided pathways to personal growth. Just think about the time at night before you go to sleep. You’re in your bed, lying in the darkness, the stillness and the silence and many thoughts come to you from the day. You may even realize that you’re the most thoughtful and reflective at this time. But why? Because you’re left with yourself, in the silence. There are no stimulations to distract you.
The silence stills you. It allows you to question yourself and those around you. It provides a pathway towards mindfulness, and when embraced allows us to internally evolve – a deepened, meaningful state of existence. The most importance thing to realize is that silence is so deafening to us because in it we are left aware of all our faults, all our insecurities, all our problems. When we become mindful of these and are left to face them by ourselves with no distractions, we want to escape. We want to avoid the one thing that helps to unite us with our present reality: silence. But running away and refusing to face and embrace silence leaves us stagnant and unchanging. Our realities are still lurking beneath the surface. Our issues never go challenged and we never change.
When we embrace silence, and push past its deafening, unsettling strength we learn. When we have the courage to allow silence to consume us, and for our minds to open and think, we grow. So the next time you are faced with complete silence try experimenting what it would be like to let it speak. You may be bewildered. And like me, you may even experience a fragment of its beauty.
Let me know any of your thoughts or experiences regarding silence below!