I’m sure it won’t surprise you if I tell you our house is loud. There are only three of us, but we could easily masquerade as a family of at least six. We are always joking, teasing and falling over laughing at our own jokes. There have been times when I’ve been outside in the yard and have heard Paul and Madi carrying on a normal conversation at levels that would suggest they are on the tarmac at the airport.
I typically have music or something on all the time. I listen to either music or podcasts in the car; I play upbeat songs when I exercise, I listen to international music when I’m in the kitchen, hopefully for inspiring my cooking skills, although that rarely works.
But what about silence? Proverbs says “Silence is golden.” Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sang about it in their 1964 song with the same name; doctors agree that silence of all things has numerous health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving focus, improving insomnia, etc.
German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper said, “Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture and ourselves.”
Even Rumi, the Persian poet from the 1200s, was urging people to “listen to silence” that long ago. I can only imagine how much noisier the world is now.
Of course we’re not just talking about the lack of noise and decibel levels; we’re talking about true rest. So many times we’re burned out and we go on vacation, but instead of resting, we go to be amused and entertained.
A study was conducted at UVA, in which they asked participants of all ages to sit in a room with nothing else but their thoughts. They were allowed to have nothing with them. No phones, no devices, no reading materials, no writing implements, no music. They were asked to sit in the room and be entertained by their own thoughts for an amount of time between six and fifteen minutes. Even for that short of a time they reported not enjoying it at all and even being very uncomfortable.
In a further experiment the participants were given the same circumstances but there was an added option of being able to give yourself a mild shock. They had all previously experienced the shock and said they would pay money not to experience it again. And yet 67% of the men and 25% of the women in the study administered the shock to themselves simply because “being alone with their thoughts was so aversive”.
I read about this study and although I found it a little disconcerting, I get it. Silence can be a little frightening and a little overwhelming, but it also brought to mind the people in my life who are not afraid of it. In fact, they relish it.
I have been lucky enough to know many strong women, women who can move mountains with their prayers and their faith. My grandmother, my mom, and my friends. Almost all of them are early risers. They crave the quiet of early morning before the noise of the world takes over. There must be a strength to be gained from setting intentions for the day, for gathering your thoughts, from prayer. Silence may just be the secret training ground of the prayer warrior.