Friday, January 15

A Book of Silence

Subtitled: A Journey in Search of the Pleasures and Powers of Silence
By: Sara Maitland

Our world is full of noise.  Jingle bells, mp3 players, endless chatter, PSP songs, Nintento, animals barking/squawking/neighing, computers clicking, texting beeps, television, CD players, printers ejecting paper, movies with THX, teenagers acting crazy, vehicle noise...shall I go on?  As a teenager who used to remain plugged into my walkman / diskman as much as possible, but I began losing that addiction as an adult.  As an observer of people, there is a large number of children, teenagers and adults who, unlike me, are frequently plugged into their noise makers.  I enjoy many of these noise makers but I have learned to live with less noise over the past few years, which I why I picked up this book by Sara Maitland, as I exited Hatchard's Piccadilly book store two months ago: A Book of Silence

What do you think about the lack of sound?  When you experience it, do you try to fill it?  Do you ever revel in it?  Sara Maitland in her middle years of life went in search of the quiet and solitude because:

1)    I wanted to understand silence better.
2)    I wanted to explore my own spirituality and deepen my growing sense of the reality of God, and the possibility of being connected to that reality.
3)    I wanted to dig deeper into my writing.
4)    I wanted more silence because I enjoyed the small amount I was getting.

She went in search of it and ten years later she continues to reach towards her goal of a life with 80% silence.  Having moved to an isolated area in North East England, she currently spends two days unplugged from contact: telephones, internet, computer, and radio.  She is also working in a third day of complete silence.  “So the questions have really become about how much silence I can create, and how much of the intensity and beauty of Skye, I can bring into dailiness, into a continuing life that is both rich and sustainable” (p. 275).

Sara’s ten years began with a move to the Isle of Skye, a beautiful island in North West Scotland where she spent 6 weeks in complete isolation.  After documenting this experience, she returned to the southern United Kingdom and researched the history of people who had willingly lead quieter lives (Thoreau, St. Therese-a French Carmelite nun, Quakers, Thomas Merton, Virginia Woolf, Bernard Moitessier, and Franz Kafka to name a few), and unwillingly led lives in partial or complete silence (prisoners of war, isolated individuals, camp prisoners, etc).  She juxtaposes the experiences of all these individuals and shares with the reader their euphoric discoveries and deep caverns of lonely solitude.  In the end, Sara searches for a place to live which allows her enough work and noise to financially live, and enough silence to achieve her goals.

Her search for silence has developed her mind, sense of self, depth of prayer, and connection to the world around her.  In her words, “I wanted not absence or lack of sound, but to explore the positive power of silence; I wanted the fullness of the experience” (p. 30).  Silence is not something I want for 80% of my life; I enjoy talking, people, connection and the occasional intellectual grapple too much, all of which requires noise.  Sara does encourage the reader to think about silence and practice unplugging in order to enjoy it more often, something, as I stated above, I started doing a few years ago.  Maitland would like us to see silence not something that must be filled, but as a space in which we can linger to further our understanding of ourselves and the larger cosmos in which we exist. 

One last note, if you plan on taking a large chunk of time to remain silent, here are the documented side effects (or perhaps interesting bits) of such a venture.  Read Sara's book for further information regarding each side effect:

1)    An intensification of both physiological and psychological
3)    A sense of ‘giveness’ or connection
4)    Auditory hallucinations – voice hearing of a rather particular kind
5)    Boundary confusions
6)    An exhilarating consciousness of being at risk and in peril
7)    Ineffability and bliss

Do not be fearful of the quiet.  Embrace the opportunities you have to increase the moments of pause in your life.  Or as Depeche Mode has admonished us since the 1990's: Enjoy the Silence.

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