Here’s the Thing about Silence

Curiosity Entertains All Wonders …from Deacon David

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

(Paul Simon’s “The Sounds of Silence”)

 

Burna and I have just returned to the US from a week exploring the Bay of Fundy, that wondrous bay off the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of New Brunswick, Canada known for the highest tides in the world. The level of the bay on the tidal beaches can rise and fall as much as 50 feet during a full moon. I’m remembering the rock-cobbled beach near the inn where we stayed and I’m thinking about silence.

 

In the late evening and early morning, the little village of St. Martins (384 permanent residents and thousands of summer residents) is nearly silent. On a glassy calm day you can stand on the beach watching the tide ebb and flow without a sound. Every 24 hours, the tide rises and falls, then rises and falls again. The up and down of the tide exposes the sea floor, then re-floats the fishing boats in the harbor, without fail, twice a day. The bay seems to be breathing—in and out, in and out. Standing on the beach, looking out over the silent bay, questions flood the mind: how deep is the bay, how does the moon pull the tide, why is the tide so high, what lives in the bay, how do the fishermen and lobstermen survive, what’s the history of this area, et cetera.

 

Here’s the thing about silence: Silence allows us to hear ourselves think, reflect, ponder, and ask questions. Scheduling out silence—not giving ourselves a chance to be still enough to listen—is like trying to hold back the mind’s tide. It’s impossible. Scheduling in silence—making time to sit quietly, with no other purpose than to relax, do nothing, and listen—is like standing on the beach long enough to watch the bay become glassy still and to hear what “nothing” sounds like: the sound of silence.

 

I’m playing with words here, but I’m trying to tell a deep truth. The “sound of silence” is curiosity and wonder. If we practice letting the tide of thoughts, emotions, words, and images—all the stuff that clutters our minds—arise and disappear, we gradually develop the ability to experience curiosity, without effort, without anxiety, without disturbance, and without curiosity itself. In silence that has forgotten that it is silent, with curiosity that is not paying attention to itself, we can experience wonder that arises out of nowhere with an extraordinarily reassuring embrace of calm. This is the peace that passes all understanding because it is the peace that arises like the flowing tide in the nature of life itself. This is another way of describing peace that is a gift of the Grace of God.

 

I’ll write more about these gifts: grace, silence, and curiosity. These three markers frame a challenge and opportunity facing humanity these days.


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