We live in a very noisy culture. No matter where we go we’re bombarded with noise from every angle. Cities, with their continual traffic and sirens and construction; the voices of people every which way you turn; those are the worst. There’s no getting away from it. But even those who live in the suburbs get treated to a continual bombardment of noise; trash trucks and mail trucks; delivery trucks and school busses, planes flying overhead.
In our homes too, we keep our televisions and radios playing continually both at home and in the car, and if we get stuck somewhere there isn’t music or movies, we have our Smartphones and our iPods to lend a soundtrack to our days.
Even when we turn all of these gadgets and gizmos off; even when the traffic stops, there is still the sounds of our plugged in electronics; the gurgle of the water in the pipes; the growl of the furnace as it kicks in; the hum of the refrigerator; the ticking of the wristwatch on your wrist.
Most people don’t even notice the noise anymore; not unless it involves something unexpectedly sudden and loud, or unless they find themselves someplace where there isn’t any noise, or in a situation where all the noise suddenly stops.
My husband used to be active duty military, and for three years we were stationed on the Island of Puerto Rico. I still remember the silence that descended on the town in the wake of the first hurricane we experienced; a hurricane that had completely disabled the power to our entire side of the Island. It was silence; complete and total silence such as I’d never heard before.
The silence had a depth to it; a weight. I could almost feel it like a living thing; waiting just beyond the range of my hearing, and I was suddenly (and forcibly) reminded of what it must have been like for the Spanish soldiers who were stationed there in 1508; thousands of miles from home and surrounded by jungle and with nothing but candles to push back the weight of the darkness. It was breathtaking.
When a modern person is subjected to that sort of silence; to the solitude that comes from a total lack of connection with the outside world, they tend to get fidgety; nervous even. Some even get downright angry and start showing all the classic signs of withdrawal. When the power comes back on, they welcome it with open arms.
One woman I know nearly had a nervous breakdown being without her music and television and telephone for almost two weeks. When I asked her, she told me that the silence frightened her because she was afraid of what it would tell her; of what she would hear; of the decisions it might ask her to make. And that, you see, is the real problem.
Western society – for all its emphasis on progress and technology – has failed to provide one very important thing for its people; it has failed to give them a way to integrate their root spirituality with their everyday life. In spite of the emphasis on religions and family values that you get in many industrialized societies, the mysteries of the world are kept at arm’s length and anything that can’t be proven by science is regarded with skepticism.
Deep in their hearts, however; deep in their hearts humanity knows that there is something more. They know that they are not living authentically; that they have become disassociated with their true feelings; with their true selves. They know this; they feel it in their bones; but they don’t know what to do about it. They have no idea of how to integrate their spiritual self into their everyday life. In fact, many have come to believe that this – what they can see and taste and touch and feel – that this is all there is because that is what science tells them is true. But when the electricity stops they can actually hear their own soul voice, and it is telling them a different story.
It is telling them that what waits in the silence is their authentic self; the person that they were meant to be but never got around to becoming, and they are scared of how badly they want to get to know that person. But most of all, they are scared of what getting to know them would mean; of the decisions it would require them to make and the changes it would entail.
And so when the power comes back on, they welcome it gladdly; relieved once again to have the noise that masks the truth that lies just beneath the surface of reality, if only they would stop long enough to see it; if only they could stay quiet long enough to listen.
©Stephanie S. Henry 2012