When was the last time you were truly still and silent?
Paul Simon penned these words over 50 years ago as a whispered polemic regarding the inability of many humans to be quiet:
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
Simon’s words suggest a longing to enter into an intimate conversation with the darkness, expecting to hear and be heard. But the song continues as a warning against the dangers of technology and distractedness: people talking without speaking … people hearing without listening.
When I recently heard this song again, my mind jumped to Twitter, where so many people are talking but few people are listening.
Under the noise, buzz, sirens and pings of the world there is a deep, almost frightening silence. We rush around and conduct business, acting as if we make the world turn; in the meantime the earth produces foliage, the rains fall and birds build nests. That’s only a tiny fraction of the intricate, ever-changing life underneath our feet and around us. Most of it goes on in utter silence.
Why do we resist silence and stillness? Perhaps we are addicted to the noise, to the busyness, to ourselves. Perhaps we stay consumed with music, video, texts and tweets to shield ourselves from that awful absence of sound where we are alone with our thoughts and forced to contemplate what is happening around us.
Even so, I believe that more and more people yearn for stillness and peace. Those who move beyond yearning to the practical cultivation of a quiet heart discover that there are great benefits. Here are three simple rewards of the practice of stillness and silence:
Second, the quieter you become, the more you will speak rightly. Deitrich Bonheoffer said that right words come out of right silence, and right silence comes out of right words — an interplay between silence and word.
Third, the quieter you become, the more you will open yourself to the mystery of the divine. I heard a woman on the radio recently say, “I’m not religious, but when I sit in the silence of the desert, that’s the closest I come to believing in God.” In silence, surprisingly, many experience the intimate conversation that Paul Simon longed for, the encounter in the darkness.
Isaiah 30:15 says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Regardless of whether or not we attend to it, the silence remains. It waits like an old friend.