On the Need for Silence


So yes, I’m back, after another unexpected silence (a hard-fought and hard-won silence).

This shepherding of silence and stillness is new to me. Just like any child of the modern (and postmodern) age, I value fruitfulness, generativity, productivity—the steady, efficient and predictable creation of output. Much of this is associated with the values of discipline, labor, toil and will. Much of this is inextricably intertwined with the modern triumph of day over night (i.e., electrical lighting, daylight savings mechanisms, twenty-four hour services, and so on and so forth) and the subordination of the seasons.

What is devalued and denigrated in our present culture is the very idea of rest: of night, of winter, of silence, of stillness, of death, of nothingness. Even our pauses have to be productive, the gaps filled by jam-packed travel itineraries and interminable bucket lists. One has to fight for one’s right to rest. Because we interiorize the values of our culture, the disapproving voices from the outside become the terrorizing demons on the inside.

So while I was silent these last few weeks, the silence—to me—felt like an act of defiance. (Defying whom? Me, of course.) The voices in my head were loud and insistent—voices I’d listened to for years and to which I attributed (and continue to attribute) most of my success. What happened to your iron self-discipline? Your implacable persistence? The creativity that you generated whatever the cost? The voices asked. When I refused to yield, the whispers became threats. You’ll lose everything you’ve built. This is where your downhill slide begins. The best years of your life are over.

And all because part of me didn’t want to write. (Yes, the demons have a flair for the dramatic.)

The good news is: the struggle is getting easier. I don’t need to justify myself (to myself) as much. I’m slowly beginning to discover the richness of what’s undervalued, what lies underfoot and what lives underground (precisely: night, winter, silence, stillness, death, nothingness). The pauses are pregnant in and by themselves. Let the gaps lie unfilled. Let the silence speak.

Or better yet, let the silence be silent.

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