Wednesday, February 24, 2010
On the beauty of Silence
Ever since then, whenever I can, I go to be in the silence.
The Devil Loves Cell Phones
Silence isn't just golden—it's heavenly.
By Julia Baird
Published Oct 22, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Nov 2, 2009
It's not hard to imagine hell as a place that is very, very noisy. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis's Devil detests music and silence. Hell, he crowed, was filled with furious noise: "the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless and virile…We will make the whole universe a noise…We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end."
After spending 40 days in an isolated house on a windy moor, Maitland found silence did several things: her physical sensations were heightened (she was overwhelmed by the deliciousness of porridge, heard different notes in the wind, was more sensitive to temperature, and emotional); she became what she calls "disinhibited" (a Jungian notion that once alone, you are free to do what you want—picking your nose while eating, stripping your clothes off, abandoning grooming, washing once a week); she heard voices (a young girl, then a male choir singing in Latin, which she thinks may have been the wind); experienced great happiness; felt connected with the cosmos; was exhilarated by the risk and peril in what she was doing; and discovered a fierce joy, or bliss.
It is a strikingly refreshing book to read, in the midst of the clamor and din, ever-mounting distraction, yelling TV pundits, solipsistic tweet-ing, and flash-card sentiment of our Internet age. It made me realize what a profound longing many of us have for silence, how hard it is to find, and how easily we forget how much we need it. Most snatch it in small grabs—hot baths, long runs, lap swimming, bike rides. Maitland rails against the idea of silence as void, absence, and lack—something that we must rush to fill—insisting it is positive and nurturing, and something more profound that must be actively sought. (When silence is imposed, of course, it is something entirely different.)
We often talk about distraction, and the banality of a culture that seems to smother deep thought or time-sucking contemplation—we tweet sneezes, we blink and record it for our friends, we sprint to be the first to speak. The anonymity of the Internet has been replaced by hyper-identity; the idea of shutting up and staring at a rock, piles of sand, or blinking stars for hours, if not weeks, seems profoundly countercultural.