There Is Just Nothing To Say

Issue 91

This month I have nothing to say. It is not that there aren't contemporary stories that I could talk about, issues of life, social justice, the climate, the Coronation or whether Donald Trump's hair is actually his own. It's just I have gone into a deeply reflective mood around the value of silence and its conspicuous absence in our lives.

Just as we are surrounded by light pollution that occludes our sight of the stars unless we find a true “dark sky” area, the same is true of sound.

Simon and Garfunkel were quite right, silence has a sound, in it there is a deep oscillation that comes from a place one can only speculate about. It is a unique tone with a fundamental resonance that few hear. It requires focussed silence and meditation to experience it, consequently few do, we rarely are silent in an egocentric, free market world in which we tend to focus more on selling our wares or acquiring those of others to define who we are and to use them to populate our lives with proxy measures that equate to concepts such as identity and success.

At a time when we have raging mental health problems that appear endemic across the population, anxiety, stress, burn out, sound becomes paradoxically the stressor and paradoxically, the antidote we use to distract ourselves from stress. Many, for example, zone out with earphones that help us hear sounds we choose to have whilst blocking the ones naturally occurring around us from unwanted communication. Whether it is music, television, telephony, or other means, we are exposed to constant streams of opinion and view. We bombard ourselves with an information overload at an auditory level often alongside being festooned with screens of visual information from our technology.

Ironically, this process has not enhanced our ability to listen. More and more people generate their own noise and rarely seize the opportunity to listen to the experience of others, perhaps ensuring counsellors have a guaranteed market space. Politicians are perhaps amongst the worst offenders when they frequently tell us what they hear people want conveniently interpreted through the bias of their own political ideology and the current media zeitgeist.

Slip into silence and it is akin to how some describe withdrawing from a drug, the reduced stimulus, the lack of complete occupation of the nervous system throws us into a compulsion to get back to the ‘busyness’ of it all. We are shifty, uncomfortable. Silence makes us more sensitised to the quieter, more subtle noises around us that are often lost in the din, some of those include the quieter voices of our communities who have views and opinions that remain drowned out by the assertions of the powerful. We hear, for example, polarised rhetoric about Brexit, but we don’t listen to the quieter sound that comes from a divided community, half of whom broadly speaking wish to remain in some nuanced way and half of whom, did not with equal levels of nuance. We don’t even countenance the message of non-voters who may have alternative views anyway!

Yes, we need to value silence, it helps us decompress our minds, listen, experience and process. It offers pause for thought and a space for others to be heard.

Much of my life has been spent listening to others. The richness in this activity is the fascination of the way others see the world. Whilst people like people who are like themselves, the truth is when you listen you can hear a vast diversity of view, emotion, attachment and perspective. We are at once alike and yet different with overpowering subtleties. We need to hear the opinion of our minority communities, of women, of older people, of our disabled, but we also need to listen to the voice of majorities who by sheer weight of number are drowned out by minority issues almost as to imply disentitlement of view. This can lead to, for example, recent rights legislation about sexual identity in one part of the union, is seen as having scant regard and little respect of the experience of women in that same community.

We also must be aware that silence functions for several reasons. The “silent majority”, for example, is often silent for decades and then can suddenly speak with a roar. It does not mean that they have nothing to say or that their lot is better than others and so they have fewer issues to voice thereby. That would be a naive assumption. Life is not like that.

Most of all, we need to explore silence to discover the psychospiritual frontiers of who we are, our humanity, our vast emotional repertoire, to process the experiences we have as we pass through life.

Yes, there is much to commend silence. It has nothing to say or sell, it cannot distract but it does confront us with opportunities to find who we are.

Oh look, here comes another silence….

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