Word of the Month: Silence

Thinking about silence brings to mind Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, the quietest place I’ve ever visited. There I was on a February day about 15 years ago, in the desert among the distinctive saguaro cacti with their upraised arms—no one else was nearby, there were no rustling leaves and there were no animal sounds. It was astonishing and memorable to be outdoors and to be surrounded by so much silence.

Clearly there are varying degrees of silence. When we experience the most basic type of silence, there’s no talking going on. We experience a greater degree of silence when we turn off music or the TV and we experience a still greater degree when we’re in a place where even nature is quiet. How can we benefit from such experiences of silence? During quiet times, we can really communicate with our deepest selves. We can truly listen to what our hearts have to say. Silence can take us to a place that is beyond words. As the Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Let silence take you to the core of life.”

Even though “silence is golden” in many circumstances, silence does have a downside. There are times when it’s necessary to not keep silent—that is, there are times when it’s necessary to speak up on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others. We may need to speak up to try to prevent or stop harm or to correct injustice. Or we may simply have to speak up to make sure our preferences or opinions are known. We can treasure both the wondrous depths of silence and the verbal expression of our authentic selves.

See more features from the February 2015 issue