The Fertility of Silence
Silence is more than a phenomenon marked by the absence of sound. Silence is an ideal. It manifests in at least two forms. The first is what we may call ‘imposed silence’. Imposed silence stems from an inability to speak up. It is the disempowered silence of the listener who is denied access to a voice.
The second is ‘composed silence’. Composed silence is an active process of keeping the busy room of the mind clean. The room of the mind is furnished with things of the past, but composed silence creates a clean slate. As Krishnamurti notes, ‘only an empty cup can be filled’. Composed silence empties the mind so that it may be filled with something extraordinary, fresh, and new.
In the first instance, silence is a negation of possibility. In the second instance, silence is the negative space of possibility. The absence of sound provides the room for the discovery of truth. By virtue of being empty space between speech, silence establishes space for inquiry to occur.
But silence is not an isolated concept. Silence is relational. We cannot make sense of self without other; day without night; foreground without background. So too, we cannot make sense of silence without noise.
But contrasting does not imply opposing. Bad experiences are not opposite to good ones, but are, in fact, the very types of experiences necessary to make sense of good ones at all. Similarly, silence is not opposed to noise, but is rather, the essential ingredient for noise to exist. Silence is the ripening of noise. To take it at its most physical, a sound wave operates in a wave whereby the spaces in between are what allow you to even hear noise.
If all a man did was talk, he would soon run out of things to say because he has given himself no time to think. Silence is not the absence of thought, but the stage of percolating and ripening. In his moving piece on the fertility of silence, Kahlil Girban writes,
You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.
In Gibran’s conception, silence is not a state of being mute or dumb but is an active process where we nurture and expand our own potential. It is the silence of a ripening consciousness, brimming with potential only because it was allowed the space to grow.
Our lives are incessantly busy. We have the demands of home, friends, work, and family. We also have a device glued to our body constantly notifying, prodding, poking, and demanding our attention. But in cultivating silence and its twin sister solitude, we can unplug and get in touch with ourselves as we are, and we might find something we did not know was there.