A year before I was born, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released the song, “The Sound of Silence” as a prophetic warning of 20th century social isolation. According to Art Garfunkel, the song was about the inability of people to communicate with each other, and thereby to love one another. It’s message lingers, marinated as a classic reprise for nearly 60 years.I grew up on the music of their era, which was my mother’s era. She exposed me to the genre passively in the background of our home. It became the soundtrack to my young life and the metaphoric material of mythic thinking. Every time I heard these tunes, my neurons signaled change.Still, it would be decades before I would fully understand the meaning of how “the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.” I would eventually be challenged to consider that The Sound of Silence portrayed by the prophets Simon and Garfunkel as social isolation, was more than that. Though the silence lived between people, the silence also lived within them. The “neon god” accomplished isolation in depth. We were isolated from each other; we were isolated from ourselves.Though some may not always understand the value of reading and writing, anyone who has endeavored to engage these tasks with diligence, learns that they are spiritual practices. Silence is never really silent in the internal world, silence just facilitates the shift from the external to the internal. The quiet brain is perpetually active, and when it is quieted, a conscious workspace is formed for reflection. We can often make the error of judgment that music does this for us, but science shows that music causes a condition of arousal rather than contemplative rest. Perhaps it is the way we think about silence that makes it most difficult to accept. Silence seems empty, without effect, just the space between things, and yet that is where everything of substance occurs for our internal life.Silence is heightened by contrast which makes it feel like empty space when we hear it between the music tracks of an album. What might you find if you explored that momentary lapse of arousal? In the absence of sound, the brain’s vast imaginative power creates a representation of sound, even if that sound is our own voice. Sometimes we maintain the subjective sensation and continue the illusion of an audio cue, but it is now ours. An internal representation and therefore, intimately our thought in that moment. Like a song you cannot get out of your head, the brain reinterprets material that is intended for our consumption.The way to know ourselves is to enter this conscious sanctuary. And It is a brave thing to enter, for sometimes silence reveals our fears as much as it does our epiphanies. Is this not our spiritual work? My own spiritual practice of journaling, reading, and reflection is in constant dimension through memory recall of what was, what it means in relation to now, and how I interpret it in my life as I visit with it like a new acquaintance in my sanctuary of silence.
To learn more about the study of silence, reference this article: https://nautil.us/this-is-your-brain-on-silence-rp-4857/
Steve is a therapist, writer, and creator of Firefly Horizons. This blog and others can be found on his website https://fireflyhorizons.com.