As individuals who are part of many relationships, from work to private, dyads to large groups, most of us spend a large proportion of our time in conversation with others either face-to-face or in a mediated format. Added to that, we listen to music or talk-radio, we watch TV, we text and message, etc. These interactions are the building blocks of our relationships, impressions of others, images of self, values and judgments, and our views of reality. So, they are vitally important. But, so is the time we spend communicating with no one but the self.
Small children, left to their own devices, will often seek a quiet space to sit and play alone or daydream while looking out a window. They are young enough to not be concerned that a quiet moment is one spent not “getting things accomplished.” They enjoy the silence (and by this I mean the lack of engagement in communication with/from/to another, not the total absence of sound). As we get older, in U.S. culture, we seem to view quiet with suspicion. Even if alone, we turn on the television for background noise, or we put on the headphones and crank up our favorite bands. Sitting quietly seems like time wasted that could be spent doing something “better” or more “useful.” Yet, it isn’t wasteful to take those moments.
It’s interesting to note that many religions or spiritual paths invoke the value of silence. For example, in the Hindu faith, we learn that the supreme force can only be accessed through the practice of silence. The Buddhists tell us that silence and tranquility are part of the path to enlightenment. Mohammed said that the proper “first stage of worship is silence.” The Daoist monks inform us that silence is the true and necessary action. In the Bible, we are reminded that there is a time for silence. And the Talmud argues that silence is good for the wise and the foolish.
Even without a particular spiritual focus, silence has value for us. In the periods of quiet we encounter, we can process our experiences, and ponder their meanings. We can celebrate the things that are wondrous, and grieve the things that make us sad. We can think through what has happened and plan for the future. And we can just “be” in that moment without worrying or wondering how we are presenting the self to others. Those aren’t easy things to do in a constant stream of conversation.
So, today, maybe take a few minutes of quiet for yourself. Turn off the radio, the TV, the computer, and your cellphone. Stop talking, texting, blogging, and emailing. Find a place where you can be just for you, just for a bit. Enjoy the sound of silence.