In Paul Simon’s song, “The Sound of Silence”, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, we hear:
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.
This song is very telling of how it happens that people lose their voice in the midst of all the noise of a culture that is consumeristic and idolizes celebrity, appearance, and affluence. The sound of silence is the sound of people losing themselves in this loud and deafening throng of voices seeking your attention and your buy in. Silence, in this vision, is symptomatic of what’s wrong. People talking without speaking. People Hearing without listening.
The Sound of Silence was written a long time ago. Yet is rings very true today. In the midst of all the noise and things and people and commercials and notifications and competing voices for our attention and our buy in, the sound of our own silence can be deafening. Yet I would offer that the antidote to the external noise with it’s silencing effect is not more speech, but more intentional silence so we don’t end up “talking without speaking.”
As I mentioned in my last post, I began my Clergy Renewal at the Buddhist Monastery of Plum Village in Southwest France. Silence there is very much a part of the daily practice. One of the purposes for the intentional practice of silence is to allow each person to hear and know themselves more deeply. In silence there is the possibility for us to cut through all the noise and messages others tell us and to discover our authentic voice. As I use the term “authentic voice” I want to pause and offer a distinction. In the noise of our culture and politics and even religion in the United States today, a tendency of equating two things that are qualitatively different has arisen. When we say things like, “everyone’s opinion matters” it can translate into everything that is said should be given equal weight. When that happens, our ability to evaluate the quality or truthfulness of claims is eroded. So when I say we need silence to discover our authentic voice, I am not talking about opinions or beliefs or chatter. I am talking about something of more substance, depth, width, and breadth; something soulful that grounds us on our journey of life and touches the holy. The sound of that kind of silence is beauty, grace, peace, and compassion – for oneself, for others, and for the natural world that supports the wholeness of life and the oneness of all creation.
At Plum Village, we practiced this intentional silence in many forms – sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, and noble silence from that last meditation until the completion of breakfast. Most of the silence was practiced together with the whole community gathered. Silent, together. In my next post(s), I will share my experience of practicing silence in a variety of ways and the influence of being silent in community upon my sense of belonging, boundaries and balance (the theme of my renewal).