Listening to the Sound of Silence

What silence can teach us about life

By Korkoi Quaye

The maxim ‘sound of silence’ makes no secret of being an oxymoron. If the definition of silence is the absence of sound, then what does the sound of silence mean? Has there ever been a point in time when sound has been completely absent from this world? Did our ancestors ever experience silence? Surely it must have been more common than in today’s busy, fast-paced world so filled with glowing screens, click bait, and endless notifications.

When silence is extended it is known as solitude, or peace. How far have we distanced ourselves from this; including the lakes, the rivers, and the streams that nurture our inner silence? Where do we stand in relation to the fields where the flowers faithfully follow the sun in the strength of silence? How far do we choose to sit from the old tree that watched silently over us whilst we played barefoot in the grass when we were young?

Silence has become a scarcity. Our workplaces resemble zoos and circuses rather than places that foster focus and deep work. Our egos are loud and noise is often seen as the only measure of productivity. Silence is like an endangered species that, if we are not careful, we may lose and then struggle to revive. There is a breaking point though, one day we will need to tame the zoo and quieten the circus in order to yield to the sound of silence.

We can let silence back into our lives in many ways. Perhaps by experiencing a morning without an alarm, or watching the sun shining through a skylight. Maybe by observing a snail slowly traversing a garden step or by hearing the muffled noise of a train. It might be diving into a cold, deep, blue pool, gliding through the water feeling the bubbles on your face until you gasp for air. It might be the air in your lungs that makes you feel alive again or a cold breeze on wet skin.

Alas, these days, silence in not sexy and is sometimes equated to suffering. Have we demonised it in a way? Are we afraid of it? Perhaps we misconstrue silence to mean ineptitude, indolence, or inertia, rendering it a bad thing. It is true that silence can be uncomfortable. Silence is the compass that leads us to sit with the self and this is sometimes unbearable. But really silence is on our side and silence should be our friend.

Silence can bring people closer together. It is a key ingredient that forms the kind of strength that we need to get through hard times. Like a river, silence flows and offers us the banks upon which we should sit once in a while. And just listen.

“Giving Space to Deviations

Allowing a little flexibility in our systems of order and discipline

By Jacob Matto

Many of us enjoy setting up systems for ourselves.

Whether the reason for them is because we want to run more, read paperback novels over digital media, or be increasingly present by meditating daily, the why behind our systems generally tend to source from honest and goodhearted motives.

The problem that arises within many systems-building, however, is that the system can inherently be too rigid due to one thing: the lack of accounting for deviations. When those ‘sudden change of events’ come into the everyday, when that variable called life gets thrown into the equation, we are not prepared. And because we don’t account for these changes to happen, we generally don’t deal with them graciously.

Let’s say that a person who wants to eat healthier has set up an unknowingly rigid system. One day, they succumb to the pressures of purchasing a single donut during an outing with a friend. The remaining thoughts of the day for that person, unsurprisingly, can be understood as:

“Well I ate a donut this morning so my entire diet is ruined for the day.”

They feel their system, even if the feeling is only temporary, is dismantled.

Of course, a single donut shouldn’t make a massive dent in anybody’s diet but it may seem to be a major defeat at the time because eating a donut wasn’t a part of the plan. It was a deviation and there was no space for that to happen.

Now, I don’t call for us to embrace these deviations and give up on our personal goals and systems, not at all. But I do want us to accept that indeed they will happen, and to not be so hard on ourselves when they do arise.

I’ll finish with a brief story.

Many years ago, shortly after the undefeated baseball team I was on lost their first game of the season, my grandfather told his distraught grandson this:

‘As a man in his twenties he had landed a job laying brick walls for future enterprises. Day after day, he would stack bricks and fill cement in between. Over the course of four years, he seemingly perfected the craft. He became one of the fastest bricklayers in his county. Yet every now and then, when he wasn’t giving the brick placement proper attention, the brick would leave his hands and fall two stories, only to shatter into dozens of pieces. “Oops”, he would say, and then promptly continue on with his work.’

“And hey” he said as he lifted my head, “the wall was still there.” 

And so just as the force of a wall will not be hindered from a single brick being placed wrongly, just as the single loss in a game doesn’t mean the end to your sports career, your system shouldn’t falter because of the single deviation that presented itself.

Give your system flexibility, allowing it to maintain its focus for when things evidently go south.”

“The Doors of Life

Finding direction through endless possibilities

By Louis Johnson

As a young person, it has been easy for me to look openly at life, seeing endless opportunities and outcomes. I spent a lot of my childhood fantasizing about the future—about the person I could become and all the things I could do. 

While I believe that being open to life is a good thing, the downside was that I didn’t quite know which way to turn. So many options were on the table: I played instruments, made small films, had an interest in business, was good with people, and wanted to travel. But which of these things did I want to pursue? 

I just didn’t know, and the truth is that I couldn’t know. I was so busy doing all of these things in my personal life that my intuition (and my sense of freedom) became clouded. Unknowingly, I was trapped by all of these possible pursuits. 

All of these options were like open doors. They were opportunities I could pursue, options I was unsure about, and things I wanted to leave open “just in case.”

I’ve started to see that I need to close some of those doors by letting go. I need to stop searching for the ‘right’ answer. Instead of chasing all of those opportunities, I simply need to be open to possibilities. I will focus on trying, experimenting, leaving only a few doors open, and riding the wave to whatever happens next. Only then will I get a better picture of where my true path really leads.”