December 29, 2020
Ending a Year. In Silence.
2020 was a hard year. I will save you the details. We have all lived and suffered through them.
We have all experienced the same virus in our world, some of us in our families, and even our bodies.
So, what are we left with from this year of loss? What can we depend on as we enter into a new year?
What has been here this year is always here and is now easier to notice.
Silence brings reflection; reflection brings silence. It is time to reflect on this year and maybe more. We can always think about rearranging closets and bookshelves. Now is a time we can ask deeper questions about what matters most, like: Who am I? Who do I want to be? What will I do with my life?
Big questions. Take your time and hold them in reflection. Allow silence to teach you how to answer them. And don’t work too hard thinking on these questions. In fact, thinking may be counterproductive. Studies have shown that periods of silence generate cell development in the memory and learning center of the brain.
Einstein, genius that he was, intuited this pre-neuroscience. “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.”
Thinking is overrated and silence underappreciated. In our loud world, most of the noise we experience daily comes from inside our own heads, from our discursive thoughts, the ongoing chatter in our minds. Silence is an antidote for our overworked minds. It creates the quiet and space for feelings and sensations to enter and to be experienced as embodied awareness.
The story goes of a man who asked a surgeon to operate on his brain. The man’s ailment, he said, was “too many thoughts” which led to “a lot of noise in there.” He needed relief from these thoughts, he went on, “so I’m asking you to please remove them.” The surgeon opened up the man’s skull and carefully examined his brain. All appeared in order. No noise was heard, and he couldn’t see any thoughts. He took another look at the man’s brain and listened carefully in case he missed something. Nothing. He closed up the man’s skull.
The next day when the surgeon entered the hospital room, the man spoke first.
“What did you see in there? What did you find in there?”
“What did you do?”
The man went quiet and searched the surgeon’s face. The surgeon asked, “What are you feeling?”
Silence is the only universal language known to all life. Trees, crows, foxes, and people all share and connect in silence.
Without silence, speech, music, or any sound loses its coherence and meaning. The quiet or pause between sound, a rest in music, allows us to take in and to make sense of what is being communicated or performed. This was clear to Mozart, who said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
Silence is both practical and profound. We find it and create it. By pausing and inserting silence into our conversations, we help ourselves slow to gather our thoughts and help others to better understand us. Deeper listening is a benefit of being quiet. As the poet Rumi notes, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” Silence makes us more effective communicators.
Silence gives us insight into the “Why” behind our behaviors. In quiet, we can ask ourselves, “Are my behaviors aligned with my values and intentions? Are some of my actions actually habits that once served me and should now be released?”
We can find silence anywhere, even in the loudest places, because we carry it within us. Meditation in any form cultivates this silence, and its companion stillness, by settling our thoughts and creating a spacious presence. Being in nature is another way to be silent; it is our connection to all life. Trees are exemplars of silent living, only making noise when the wind rustles their leaves and creaks their branches. To add meaning to the sounds of your life, find and create your own silence.
“Let silence be the art you practice.” Rumi
As we end a year and begin another, let us practice silence within ourselves, with each other, and with the natural world. Let us invite silence into our noisy lives and reflect on who we are and what we will do in the days and months ahead. And, let us take a moment of …
Silence for all the people who sacrifice by going out and staying out in our infected communities to take care of us with medicine and food and life supplies.
Silence for the oldest and the most vulnerable. We see you through the windows of fear and hope that divide us. There is no forgetting you in silence.
Silence for all the people who have been othered and marginalized. We welcome you in to the place you have always belonged and we ask for your forgiveness.
Silence for all who have died. From stillness and silence you came to be and have now returned.
Silence for all who have lost someone. As Ram Dass noted, “Everybody you have ever loved is a part of the fabric of your being now.”
Silence for all the children. Some born this year, who will remember it through others’ eyes, and some who will hopefully learn that life is not the constraints of a deadly disease. Life is loving hugs and laughter, and talking and playing, and all the silence between.
References & Resources