With the intensity and volume of information bombarding our senses from a multitude of different sources every day, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had experienced an extended period of time in silence.
From social media feeds to the billboards lining the street, from our daily back and forth with coworkers and friends, to fast passing headlines on the radio and television – everything demands our attention and it all seems to be too much.
There are days I think that a little bit of personal silence would do our society some good. Of course, I am not in a position to remain silent for long - but I do fantasize about the quiet from time to time.
Throughout high school I participated in three separate days of silence with my peers to protest injustices happening around the world. At that point, a day felt like an eternity.
In retrospect I wish I chose to stay in silence for longer. Choosing to refrain from talking has internal effects, first you feel trapped by your inability to communicate – those who know me know I love to talk. But after a while you stop focusing on how you want to impose yourself on the world.
Slowly and overtime you let it go, then you begin to take in the world for how it is, undisturbed by your own (verbal) input.
Silence makes you appreciate the value words can have — when they are both thoughtful and intentional. It also heightens the realization that the world is inconstant competition for attention.
The idea of a vow of silence was also popularized by the book Eat, Pray, Love. In the movie adaptation, the main character, Julia Roberts, almost commits to a year of silence during her stay in an Indian ashram.
Roberts, purchases a pin from the gift shop that reads “I am in Silence.” Before taking the plunge, she is offered an opportunity that requires her voice. She removes the pin from her shirt, puts it down and walks away.
What would the story have looked like if the main character didn’t remove the pin? What if the best-selling book transitioned to an internal monologue as she carried out a year of silence?
What revelations may have come from that? No one will ever know.
For the last 2,000 years, societies around the world have recycled the same stories and experiences. Very rarely is something created that can stand against the sands of time as being truly original and universal. I often believe everything we have said or want to express has already been written.
If we had more time to devote to reading and learning about the remarkable stories of the past or well-crafted reports of the present, I believe we would be far better informed about our own nature, and that of humanity.
As I continue to speak, I look forward to the day I will go silent. Not in a morbid way, but in a calm reflective way.
With a thousand quotes on the benefits of silence, I will defer to the wiser.
In a letter to his family Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote, “All I insist on, and nothing else, is that you should show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose; but when it is necessary, speak – and speak in such a way that people will remember it.”
The letter was translated and published in 1938. Wise words to be discovered nearly 200 years later.