Je suis de plus en plus frappé par le vide des mots, des discours, des livres où l’auteur, où les auditeurs, où les lecteurs demandent à une ferveur qui ne leur coûte rien et qui ne les engage pas, une dispense de vivre. C’est pourquoi je ne suis sensible, au fond, qu’à la grandeur de vie que le silence, presque toujours, exprime le mieux.

(Boissière, Bernard De, and France-Marie Chauvelot. Maurice Zundel. Presses de la Renaissance, 2004. p. 340)

[I am struck more and more by the emptiness of words, those  discussions, or books where the author, or the readers demand, with a fervour which costs them nothing and which does not engage them, to be dispensed from living. That is why, basically, I am only sensitive to the wonder of life which is, almost always, best expressed by silence.]

I have been struck, for some time now, by the unwillingness, I would almost say the inability, of people to tolerate silence. Everywhere you go people walk about with their ears plugged by their iPods. Even here where I live they walk along the cliffs, or by the shore, with the music of the waves, the wind and the birds obliterated by electronic sounds. In supermarkets and bars, restaurants, hotels and lifts, practically everywhere, you are assailed by recorded sound. Silence, the natural sounds of life and living, the hum of conversation, the voices of children at play are not allowed. Silence, especially, must be filled with something, anything. It is not to be endured.

Why, I wonder, are so many so afraid of silence? I do not suppose the answer is simple or straightforward. There are many factors, not least the urban environment in which most people live, with its incessant noise. On all sides we are assailed by sounds which distract us from ourselves, from thoughts, from thinking. It seems as though we do not like being simply with ourselves, simply being aware – aware of thoughts as they come and go, aware of the lives of others, aware of life unfurling within and without. Silence for so many is like waiting for a bus, a barely tolerable hiatus in the onrush of doing, to be avoided if at all possible. 

Silence, and wonder, and awe, and love all go together. They are sisters inducing an inner stillness which plumbs the depths of being. The initial response may be fear, even terror, caused by a sense of vertigo before empty depths.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.

And, perhaps, this is why so many avoid it if possible, want to be dispensed from simply living in the present now. In the silence there is nothing to distract, nothing to draw the attention away from thoughts and feelings that surge from within. And so, they never discover that when the thoughts and feelings have unfurled, when they have emptied themselves out, there is left a deeper inner silence. This is the hushed silence, the expectant silence, before the mystery that we are to ourselves, the mystery of being.

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