first_imgStresslines Dr. Bernard S. SuranHave you ever found a place in your world so quiet that you can hear a leaf fall?Not just the wind whistling through the trees but the actual descent of a single leaf? Wouldn’t that be a grand thing? To find a place so quiet and peaceful and unhampered that a consciousness might merge with an event of such incredible delicacy? It would be like being the leaf moved by nature’s cadence.Such places exist on God’s green earth. Not in the boombox of the megapolis, of course; here we can hardly distinguish one sound from any other in the clamor that assaults our senses. But, there are canyons in the mountains where the distant swish of a hawk’s wing will embrace one’s ears long before one’s eyes will find the bird in flight. When that happens, one’s arms move instinctively, as though soaring like a bird. As though flying freely like a bird. Freeing ourselves.If we were fortunate enough to find such a place, would the buzz in our heads allow the birth of such a miracle? Would it even register in the cacophony of the mind? We have grown so comfortable with noise. Both in our ears and in our minds, we take for granted the bombardment of clatter. We hardly notice the unending buzz.When the ancient Greeks first found Delphi, they built a shrine. Yes, Mt. Parnassus sat there shrouded in misty clouds, creating fancies of the gods at play. Yes, the unobstructed sight line through the rolling hills to the Bay of Corinth bathed the eyes. But, they must have built the shrine to honor the silence that gentles the awesome mountain. The silence there overwhelms all else.When the ancient Incas discovered Machu Pichu, they built a shrine. Yes, the lushness of the verdant vegetation carpets the mindscape. True. Orchids bloom at 8,000 feet. Certainly, dripping with grace, the sense of the sacred prevails. But again, the quiet overwhelms all else.We no longer build shrines to silence, and we have lost the memory of its virtue. Silence as ThreatHow does silence fit in a world so strafed by noise pollution? It doesn’t. When we come upon some semblance of it, we feel scared or threatened. Mind games. Imagination running wild. Filling in the blanks with misplaced perceptions. Mostly it happens late at night, when the house is dark and the sounds of the city recede. News flashes of home invaders, burglars, thieves, murderers, rapists, things that go bump in the night and all things horrible fill the void.Instead of quieting us — the true work of silence — it stirs us up in a manner unpleasing.The night sky writes a very different story line. The city sky, so distant and empty, seldom catches our fancy. Nothing there but a few barely visible pinholes. Ah, but going to the country, well, that’s an experience unencumbered by city lights.When darkness falls, the sky explodes; and we witness a cornucopia of visions. We search the constellations in our memories and trace their outlines above with excited fingers. “A gift,” we say. The majesty of the sky inspires us to thoughts of creation and an all-powerful God who orders and manages the universe. We feel like falling on our knees and thanking the Good Lord who has made it all possible. We feel connected to something larger than ourselves.However, when we look away and let the quiet descend upon us, another reality emerges. The silence of the country disquiets us. Silence makes us feel alone. And that’s scary. Silence as friendWhy silence? In the Eastern religions, the question seems absurd. In Zen Buddhism, for example, silence is the path to both selfhood and selfness, clearing the mind, the disappearance of conflict, finding a state of untroubled clarity, allowing one’s true nature to emerge and align rhythms of life.Most Westerners are unlikely to commit to Nirvana with the shallow understanding that Nirvana represents a state of nothingness. We can do without nothing, we think. However, the notions of inner peace and serenity may be quite palatable to any of us whose only experience of quiet involves leading lives of quiet desperation. Who could not benefit from a serious dose of tranquility?Although we may kick against the goal, we need silence in our lives. Desperately so. We will not find it if we don’t search for it, make space for it, and understand that in so doing, we will make a new friend. To find it, we must close the door, turn off the TV, turn off the stereo, and turn on our minds to quietude. A distant mountain retreat wouldn’t hurt.Yes, we fear being alone, but alone is not the same as loneliness. When we allow ourselves to be alone in quietude, we may find that our inner lives are richly peopled; we carry with us the legacy of all our relationships (some wonderful, some awful); and in the solitude of mind we can do with those relationships whatever we wish. We can do with our experiences whatever we wish. We can sort and reorganize and find missing things. We can find a way to be the persons we wish to be and have such difficulty being when ruled by the madding crowd. We might even find ourselves. Surely, no harm in cultivating the idylls of the mind.Silence nurtures a version of ourselves that hides from the traffic. We may never know those versions if we don’t create a space to be with them. It could be that someone is inside, searching for a way to be, and that someone may be more worthy of love and respect than the conscious awareness of ourselves that’s bumping elbows day in and day out. It could be that the very best friend I might ever find is me.If we can’t always be happy, we can at least sometimes be silent. That might very well make someone else very happy.As we move about the world, should we find silence wherever it may be, let us not disturb it. Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee’s website is at The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled “The Healthy Lawyer.” Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee’s Web site or by going directly to Discovering the solace of silencecenter_img August 1, 2003 Regular Newslast_img