Web Round-Up: The Value of Silence

Dear Friends,

Time for my semi-regular round up of what’s been coming through my computer screen these days. There’s so much of it, it’s hard to keep track! A little ironic, I know, that all these snippets of wisdom about the writing life and the contemplative life are now delivered via the medium that can so easily distract us from those lives. I surrender to the irony….

First up, Anna Wood, over at thenervousbreakdown, has much to tell us about the nature of silence:

Silence is radical. When sustained, it has an effect on your perception comparable to that of any number of chemicals with which you might seek change. Your vision transforms, to start with; you suddenly find yourself absorbing what’s on the periphery, massive amounts of once-invisible data assailing your pupils. When you’re not preparing your next remark, your hearing capacity expands, too: the changing rhythms of the wind; the muted thud of a teardrop hitting the wooden floor; your neighbor’s beating heart. And taste, and smell, they’re amplified and shifted, as well—a cup of tea sipped without the surrounding dialogue …is a more intricate cup of tea. Silence gives you the opportunity to know any number of an object’s facets that typically disappear behind the verbal screens we erect constantly, unthinkingly, between our selves and our environments.

Silence can be hard to come by, can’t it? Especially when we think we’re “too busy” for silence. Here’s an article from the NY Times on “The Busy Trap”:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. …..Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. 

And this, from Kaspa, at Writing Our Way Home, as she takes a moment to pause in the busyness of moving:

I am enjoying this pause between moments of chaos. The silhouettes of leaves cast onto other leaves as the desk lamp shines though the plant next to me. The dark cat purring at my feet. Even the warmth of the light on the textured wallpaper we inherited from the last inhabitants.

This is all the stuff of life. I was going to write something about my hectic work schedule. How I had to take on an extra shift at my part time job and how little time I had to write to you all, what with seeing clients and running Buddhist services and unpacking boxes… It all seems less important in this Sunday evening pause.

Today I heard our friend Esther Morgan reading from her collection Grace at the Ledbury poetry festival. One of the themes of that collection is ‘whilst life is happening elsewhere’ – that sense that we are waiting for our lives to start. Waiting for something.

But this is it. We have to start from where we are right now – with all the chaos as well as the beauty. Learn to be with the plastic dust sheeting on the floor, and the too loud fireworks, in the same way as the flowering sage in the garden, and the splayed leaves of the young courgette plants. This is the stuff of life.

This is the stuff of life.
I find that when I struggle the most, it’s when I want that “stuff” to be different than what it is: quieter, louder, more beautiful, easier, whatever. I’m writing this to you out on my back deck, after I’ve spent the morning in a typical struggle that led to surrender. I’m much quieter now.

Today, contemplate your own “stuff of life”: what can you hold more close, and what can you let go?

Wishing you a peaceful week ahead,


5 thoughts on “Web Round-Up: The Value of Silence

  1. I’m thoroughly enjoying your book, The Pen and the Bell. I believe it will help me get back on track with my writing. Thanks for the Web Round Up on Silence and the “stuff of life. Will be helpful to me as well as my students. Thanks

  2. When I was very much younger and my life was crowded with responsibilities and chores, I actually enjoyed ironing. I was freed of guilt, for I was being productive, after all, but my mind was freed. My husband could never understand why I chose a room without a radio or television to keep me company as I ironed, but it was the silence that I sought. He was the beneficiary of my labor, but I profited from the uninterrupted silence. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

  3. Funny, Lyn, I still like to iron. Something about the smell of hot steam on cotton. Then I got into the habit of popping a DVD into my laptop to watch while I iron. Then I started doing that while I saw, which got annoying as I couldn’t hear the dialogue over the machine. Sigh. In a light bulb moment last week, I gave up on the DVD and just sewed. And ironed. Ahhh. Thanks, Brenda, for bringing my attention back to silence.

  4. silence can be the best part of everyday. a wonderful piece you shared.