Is Silence the Answer?

Silence doesn’t echo itself. It doesn’t create copies of itself. Silence waits for us to slow down enough that we can hear the deep reverberation of all that is waiting to be heard and appreciated.

Life, in the early days of this planet, departed from the cathedral of silence when it learned how to propagate cells by creating copies—using DNA and RNA genetic blueprints—thereby transforming the face of Earth from empty waves crashing against barren rock to a world in which oceans and continents burgeoned with living beings. To this day, the creation of new human beings follows this same path: a single cell formed from the DNA of two parents grows into a fetus comprised of billions of cells, all with the same DNA. However, while still in the womb, cells start specializing for the tasks they will be called upon to perform later. Rather like we, as adults, are expected to specialize in order to find a place in society.

The process of birth and subsequent adaptation to events continues to operate for the rest of our lives. There are always processes and items from which to choose. Yet, even so, we all have the same devices with the same features, drive the same kinds of vehicle racing along the same roads. A population explosion of things, similar to the propagation of cells in the fetus we once were, does not guarantee the freedoms for which we yearn. Standing upright and surveying the world in which we live, it’s an ongoing struggle to find anything uniquely our own.

In the unending racket of forces that leave no time or space for real choices to be made, we grasp after new models even though they don’t offer anything significantly new. We suffer a din of sound bites that parade images of freedom and fulfillment, even though they are deaf to the real needs that gather around and in us. Meanwhile, we are strangers to our own minds and hearts.

Some of ask, “Is there another way, another path we might follow? Is there a hidden potential not found in the propagation of tendencies already at work in us and in our world?

When we watch ourselves following paths that offer us little that we haven’t encountered countless times before, we may be encouraged to search for something new. And when we turn onto a different road, we may find new choices arising, without us having to invent them.

But whatever route we take, we will still encounter limitations. Wherever we go, we will find ourselves looking out of our old eyes, no matter how varied the sights and sounds that greet us. I remember an afternoon years ago. I walked up the Sandia Mountains, which ascend a mile above Albuquerque, hoping to escape a mind reverberating with a remark I overheard my boss make about my unimpressive performance. The stunning views and open space were lost on me. I could have stayed at home, for all the freedom from my own mind I found on that trail.

It’s a fine idea that we could step off the familiar path and—like Alice–find an unnoticed doorway into Wonderland. (In her case, she needed a pill to make her smaller so that she could fit through a tiny opening into an amazing world unknown to this familiar one).

Which comes first: can we just tap a potential to see things differently; or must we take a different branch in the road before new possibilities can be found? Trapped in a fenced yard, can we discover that we have wings that we just haven’t noticed before and fly over a fence that imprisons us? Or, standing on the edge of a tall building, is that a bad time to practice flying?

The hope persists that we could launch forth into new realms of consciousness, in which we won’t feel nailed down in a world that already defines the impossible and the possible.

Are we already free to step into a silence for which our weary minds and hearts so deeply yearn? Silence is worth listening for, if we want to embark on a different journey. Silence is not the absence of sound. It is the fertile crescent out of which new life is born and old life is transformed through the discovery of unsuspected capacities.

If we imagine an early human picking up a burning branch after a lightning strike and keeping it alive for another day; if we imagine a bereaved mother uttering a sound with such feeling that those around her began to utter that sound when they have lost someone dear to them; if we imagine ourselves vowing to honor our losses but not be drowned by them; then we will be taking a step onto a path that may be new to us, but which, since the dawning of time, countless others have taken in their own journeys of wonder.

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