Silence Is Golden

SILENCE is golden. The line feels trite and clichéd. It’s one of those phrases straight out of a grade-school phrase book, one of those adages that leave you with some sickly, sweet lesson on life. We talk too much and listen not as much, so my dears, Behold, keep silent!

But there’s that other side to our golden line. In our silence-starved world that’s perpetually blinking, screaming and breathlessly pulsing with too much, too big, too loud, too fast, a golden silence is more relevant than ever. It’s so easy not to give it a blink of your day. There are bigger, better things to seize, whatever we can stuff into the finite hours of our day as hungrily and quickly as we can—doesn’t matter if they’re lined up as snatches of time, or stretches of it. 

Enter the Internet, and you’ve the whole world in your hands, the World Wide Web. More power on you! Alas, it steals from us the very world we lack and need—our sacred space, our silence, where focus and concentration are kin and kind.

Just think of those two verbs, scroll and toggle, and you’re immediately arrested by the devils of distractions, the two accomplices who are masters at toying with our focus, and dickering with it.

Scroll down the Google page, Facebook, Instagram, scroll, scroll, scroll. And you find yourself sucked fathoms deep into a world of noise—of words, images, still or moving, stuff, gazillion stuff—noise that sometimes may just be zero decibel. Yet there’s something deadly, deafening about this kind of noise.

Could it be possible it’s no different from the sort that plagued Virginia Woolf, the one that would ultimately make her walk right out of her home straight into the river, where she would say a sweet adieu to life?

Isn’t that why Google can really make us stoopid? We search one thing, and something else comes up. It triggers many forked roads along the way: two paths yield four, four more yield eight, sixteen? Who knows? Who keeps track? And before we know it, a splash of windows are simultaneously opened. Toggle, do the three-finger left-right swipe, how about the four-finger up-down maneuver? Windows, windows, windows everywhere, some screaming for our attention, others lurking in the background, at the ready for that monster multi-tasking beast we’ve become.

My heart’s racing as I write this. I want to scream, I want to just stop it, stop, Stop, STOP!

And then, who comes into the picture? The English pianist, Stephen Hough, who’d appear, ironically, through a friend’s Facebook post. In a piece entitled, Why Musicians Need Silence in an Always-Connected World, published in The World Post on 6 April 2016, Hough notes how, “it’s important for musicians to step aside even from music, and from listening to music.” It is ironical, he admits. But he presses the point, pushes the paradox:

I think it’s terribly important for musicians to have silence in their lives because we’re dealing constantly with something that breaks the silence; music is sound waves which interrupt the silence, therefore for musicians, silence is the soil into which we have to plant music; we must nourish the soil, make sure it’s of good quality so that our seeds will take root.

I’m not sure where my seeds are. Sometimes I think I know, sometimes I’m uncertain. They feel scattered, but I know they’re there, tossed about on the path, friends with fear, stupid fear. I just need to gather more soil, more good soil, more meaningful silences. And that’s when the golden phrase of my yoga teacher, Anya, whispers in my ear again, vividly.

“Keep busy breathing,” she has said, in all the three Yin yoga classes I’ve attended so far. It’s sound advice to do that almost retarded and obvious thing: say inhale and exhale, as you inhale and exhale, and hey, like magic, you can block out the noise, the distractions! I’ve heard that  a million times before, but doing it has been a separate story. It wasn’t as if she was teaching some groundbreaking, earth-shaking stuff.

But over those three times I heard it, a line kept coming to me—one that’s been screaming at me to be written down, to be written about. And I knew that if I wrote it, I was going to gather more soil, more good soil, more meaningful silences. It’s the kind of voice that isn’t noise, one I know I should say whenever I feel as if my seeds are going all helter-skelter.

Don’t bug me, I’m breathing.


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