“Find those moments where you can quieten your mind and find moments of joy that are just for you. Then you will find silence.” ~ Erling Kagge

Many years ago, as a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus, I was lucky enough to take part in a festival of music celebrating the work of pioneering American composer John Cage. We were involved in several different performances over the course of a weekend, the most memorable of which saw the choir splitting up into a number of sub-choirs, all positioned around the voluminous corridors and hallways of London’s Barbican Theatre. Our group had several pieces of music in front of us and, at a specific time, the conductor threw two dice. The numbers determined which piece we would sing, and from where within the piece we should begin. After a set amount of time (a few minutes I think), the dice were thrown again and we switched pieces and places accordingly. Our voices echoed around the music space, intermingling with the sounds of the other groups, who were all performing their own versions of the music, to their own dice throws.  It was a remarkable experience, a total immersion in a multiplicity of sounds, which were at once discordant and harmonious.

In contrast, John Cage is perhaps better known for his groundbreaking work “4’33”, in which no instrumental music can be heard.  The performers sit in ‘silence’ on the stage for the precise time of four minutes, 33 seconds. Cage’s point is that this time is not actually a period of no sound, but rather is an exploration of all those sounds made by a large body of people sitting together. As such, every time the work is performed, it is a unique and unrepeatable experience, exactly as is the case with any more traditional composition.

It is a fascinating approach to music and performance, and you can see an excellent version of the work in this film:

 

I was reminded of my Cage experience when my dear friend Gallivanta shared the following footage of a ‘silent interview’, also lasting 4’33. Erling Kagge reflects on the benefits of finding silence, wherever you are, and whenever you wish to do so.

 

“Silence can be anywhere, anytime.  That is the joy of it!  I believe it is possible for everyone to discover this silence within themselves, even when surrounded by constant noise.” – Erling Kagge

 

The interview led me to review Marina Abromavić’s fascinating art installation, where she sat in the middle of a room holding silent interactions with all those who queued to see her.

And if you will allow me one further link, I very much enjoyed revisiting the film in this post in which Johanna Norblad talks about ways of finding a different world of peace and beauty.

As I type, it is quiet, but definitely not silent. I can hear the clacking of my fingers on the keyboard, the whirr of the washing machine in its final rinse cycle, the gentle hum of our central heating boiler. And yet, through the wisdom of all these different links, I can see how easy it is to create your own atmosphere, your own conditions, whether it be your version of silence, a sense of peace and calm, or a moment of stillness.

Does peace come via silence, or do we find our own silence be being peaceful? I don’t think it matters. What is important, though, is recognising the restorative benefit of finding our own ‘piece of peace’ in the midst of life’s hurly burly.

“All the wonders of life are already here. They’re calling you. If you can listen to them, you will be able to stop running. What you need, what we all need, is silence. Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise

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16 thoughts on ““Silence is the new luxury” – an exploration of ways in which we can find peace and quiet amidst the busyness of life

  1. A profound tribute to silence. In our “busy” days, we have become familiar with sound, whether music, traffic, text message notifications, alarm clocks. At the same time, our affinity with silence has lessened to the point that we are uneasy in what seems to be a “void.” Consider that we rush to fill a conversation when there is a lapse into silence. I am finding that I need to reconnect to silence, to the rhythms of nature, to the noise of the heavens. A wonderful post, Liz! Thank you!!!

    1. I am so pleased you enjoyed the post, Becky – thank you! I found it very calming even just to think about this subject while putting together all the related links. This blogging lark is such a tonic in all sorts of ways! 🙂 xxx

  2. Wonderful links and exposition on the subject of silence. Your experience with Cage’s choral work makes fascinating reading. I think I find my own silence in being peaceful. Many in my family wonder why I stay up so late at night; it’s partly because the hours after dinner until bed time are my peaceful-silent time; the keyboard, the clock, the dishwasher etc quietly surrounding my silence. To be able to be silent, still, and peaceful is a blessing. I wish it weren’t such a luxury. I would like silence to be a staple in our lives.

    1. Thank you Mandy – and thanks for putting me on to that interview in the first place! I know exactly what you mean about the peace to be found late at night, or even early in the morning. It is indeed a blessing, and perhaps even more precious and special because we have to make an effort to find it? I wonder if we would truly appreciate the benefits of stillness if it was all around us as a matter of course?

  3. Interpreting silence is sometimes difficult. I am happy to sit in silence but when the person you sit with isn’t as familiar, then do they think the silence is rude or comfortable. Overthinking is a bad thing, sometimes feigning sleep is the best thing to do in that case.

  4. Peace is difficult to achieve when there is so little silence in the world. Like Mandy, I stay up much too late just to get some peace. I don’t sleep well so I often have a quiet hour in the morning too! I cannot easily make plans, analyse situations, come to terms with events if I am surrounded by noise and busyness and it is difficult to concentrate on finding one’s inner peace without seeming rude when surrounded by friends and family all needing attention!
    I have ordered Erling Kagge’s book ‘Silence; in the Age of Noise’.

    1. It’s such an interesting concept to think about – this notion of silence as a thing to be found. I also bought Kate’s book (great minds…!) and am enjoying it very much – I really hope you do too! X

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