Silence is not a lack of words.
Silence is not a lack of music.
Silence is not a lack of curses.
Silence is not a lack of screams.
Silence is not a lack of colors
or voices or bodies or whistling wind.
Silence is not a lack of anything.
Silence is resting, nestling
in every leaf of every tree,
in every root and branch.
Silence is the flower sprouting
upon the branch.
Silence is the mother singing
to her newborn babe.
Silence is the mother crying
for her stillborn babe.
Silence is the life of all
these babes, whose breath
is a breath of God.
Silence is seeing and singing praises.
Silence is the roar of ocean waves.
Silence is the sandpiper dancing
on the shore.
Silence is the vastness of a whale.
Silence is a blade of grass.
Silence is sound
And silence is silence.
Silence is love, even
the love that hides in hate.
Silence is the pompous queen
and the harlot and the pimp
hugging his purse on a crowded street.
Silence is the healer dreaming
the plant, the drummer drumming
the dream. It is the lover's
exhausted fall into sleep.
It is the call of morning birds.
Silence is God's beat tapping all hearts.
Silence is the star kissing a flower.
Silence is a word, a hope, a candle
lighting the window of home.
Silence is everything --the renewing sleep
of Earth, the purifying dream of Water,
the purifying rage of Fire, the soaring
and spiraling flight of Air. It is all
things dissolved into no-thing--Silence
is with you always.....the Presence
of I AM
--Elaine Maria Upton
Something seemingly simple can be very complex. Something commonly held as "understood" can be profoundly misinterpreted. Our insight into familiar concepts helps us interpret all of the experiences we derive from the environment in which we live. Yet, our perspective may be too narrow to encompass the rich detail of construct and thus limit our ability to comprehend the beautiful fabric of the most common thing. Consider the concept of silence.
The origin of the word silence can be traced to the Latin word, silens, meaning "to be still, quiet, or at rest." Other words synonymous to it are: stillness, calm, peace, serenity, tranquility, poise, composure, noiselessness, hush, and solitude. To truly understand silence, we must think in terms of a "quiet" that pervades our souls from within.
In his description of stillness, Romano Guardini (1885-1968), one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century, cuts to its very essence:
“Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden streams. It is a collected, total presence, a being ‘all there,’ receptive, alert, ready . . . It is when the soul abandons the restlessness of purposeful activity.”
Within this definition we learn the first fundamental lesson of silence: It is not so much a lack of sound as it is a cultivation of interior stillness. We should understand that silence is also used as total communication, in reference to non verbal communication and spiritual connection. Actually, silence may be a condition that allows the most powerful communication to thrive.
A silent mind, freed from the onslaught of thoughts and thought patterns, is both a goal and an important step in spiritual development. Spiritual silence is understood to bring us in contact with the divine, the ultimate reality, or our own true self, our divine nature.
Many religious traditions imply the importance of being quiet and still in mind and spirit for transformative and integral spiritual growth to occur. For example, in Buddhism, the descriptions of silence and allowing the mind to become silent are implied as a feature of spiritual enlightenment.
In Hinduism, including the teachings of Advaita Vedenta and the many paths of yoga, teachers insist on the importance of silence, Mauna, for inner growth.
Perkey Avot, the Jewish Sages guide for living, states that, "Tradition is a safety fence to Torah, tithing a safety fence to wealth, vows a safety fence for abstinence; a safety fence for wisdom..... is silence."
In the poem, "Silence II," Elaine Maria Upton uses negation to illustrate her understanding of spiritual silence. She tells us what silence is not and confidently affirms "Silence is not a lack of anything." Upton uses many metaphors to illustrate her understanding of silence as full and complex -- some of these images involve birth, growth, praise, and death. She also confirms that silence is experienced in both "sound" and the absence of any perceived audible vibration.
Upton personifies silence as "the queen, the harlot, the pimp, the healer, and the lover." Each person she mentions in the poem becomes silent in order to serve their own purpose. Then, she uses these three beautiful metaphors to build the universality of the bridge between silence and spiritual development.
"Silence is God's beat tapping all hearts.
"Silence is the star kissing a flower.
"Silence is a word, a hope, a candle lighting the window of home."
In the end, Upton praises the "renewing" and "purifying" powers of our constant spiritual friend. She immortalizes silence as a gentle message of God, a sweet show of affection from a heavenly body, and a soft beacon leading home. As she states that silence is the "Presence of I AM," Upton underscores the need for something very common, yet essential for personal, spiritual growth and well being -- the natural need and emotional desire for silence, a gift to be developed from within once the "tapping" is answered, the "kiss" is reciprocated, and the "candle" is employed.
Often we are so wrapped up in our culture of all-spectrum noise that we lack even the will to escape it. We all can feel how much stress this kind of life causes. Giving in to "the noise" can be harmful. Novelist and journalist George Michelsen Foy says this about escaping stress:
"Release is what I'm truly craving here, and release comes from emptiness. The emptiness of silence, of lonely landscapes, of closed eyes, of lying down in a dark, quiet room. The drop in tension that happens when we take a vacation somewhere calm, the instant of zero gravity during orgasm, the psychic leap of a good joke when it flips the world on its head for a splinter of a second. Such void cuts off the fascist flow of constant information, and allows us to recalibrate. To think better. To question, for a second, our baseline."
(George Michelsen Foy, "Why We Need Silence to Survive," Psychology Today, March 26 2010)
Foy believes that human creativity rests on a three-part process:
(1) Cutting off previous assumptions,
(2) Coming up with an idea, and
(3) Testing if the idea works.
Foy goes on to say that the first part of the process means being able to cut off all input, especially input we don't want. But how can we do that in a society that relies on transmitting, 24/7, at maximum volume into our eyes, ears, taste buds and touch, a constant and vicious overdose of mostly useless data?
Foy stresses how important it is, for our health and sanity, to protect ourselves from excessive sound levels by finding quiet environments where we can take time out from the din of daily life to listen to ourselves, and to each other, and, ultimately, to find, in the absence of noise, meaning.
How do we find this essential silence to expand our creative and spiritual development in a noisy, warp-speed environment? I think we must plan and develop time for quiet, less stressful conditions. And, we must better appreciate the necessity of silence, in all its many forms, as a means to help ground a calmer existence.
I believe we must seek silence in our daily lives and exercise our minds in silent mediation and serene thought. Natural settings certainly offer great tools for new, quiet discoveries and silent contemplation. The wisdom derived from nature is soul soothing bounty. Many people are losing touch with the grandeur and power of the natural world.
I think we must also improve our ability to focus on being silent and listen more effectively. For example, we must learn to listen to not only what people say but to how they say it. Our listening skills pale in comparison to most active aptitudes. Good listening requires great effort and much practice, but we must learn to be quiet with open and understanding ears. While hearing is passive, listening is active. Studies show most people listen to and understand only about a fourth of what is being communicated.
Even if reading Elaine Maria Upton's poem "Silence II" didn't make you understand silence as the "Presence of I AM," I bet it caused you to pause, reflect, and consider the true, restorative nature of silence. And, friends, if the poem didn't "rock your boat" at all, at least reading it allowed you a few moments of silent contemplation during your busy, hectic day. That's a start for a little more contentment in life... a nice, quiet beginning.
"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessing given to us to learn from."
--Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss psychiatrist and author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying