Sunday, August 27, 2006

Streams of Silence

"I have discovered that all of our unhappiness derives from one single source--not being able to sit quietly in a room."--Blaise Pascal, 17th century French philospher
How do you respond to streams of silence in your writing life?

Does silence feel like a wall that keeps you from getting at words, a barrier standing in the way of your stories?

Or is silence more like a blank canvas waiting for colors, or, perhaps, like the pause before an orchestra bursts into a cacophony of sound?

On my pre-dawn strolls, ambling past dark houses and star-lit lakes before the date palm trees and longleaf pines stand out like India-ink silhouettes against the reddish horizon, I feel as if I can swim in silence forever.

But less than an hour later, sitting at my desk to write, the silence is a painful reminder of what I don't know, and it takes all of my inner-strength to remain in my chair and not bolt for another cup of coffee or reach for the phone or flick on the radio to keep from drowning in silence.

It's strange how silence can feel so liberating on my walks ... yet so isolating when I'm staring at a blank screen or piece of paper, alone at my desk, waiting for words.

Silence can feel at times as thick and impenetrable as the walls of a prison cell.

What writer hasn't felt this silence like an enormous weight pressing down on his or her chest...a painful reminder of his isolation, a thick fog cutting her off from the rest of the world?

"Silence," writes Christina Feldman in Silence: How to Find Inner Peace in a Busy World, "can be both heaven and hell."

Feldman offers important insights into the nature of silence that can benefit writers as we struggle in our own streams of silence.

How we respond to silence, she suggests, can determine how each of us gains access (or fails to gain access) to our inner worlds.

"Silence is a way of being deeply honest with ourselves," writes Feldman. "We long for this inner wholeness and self-understanding, yet fear being overwhelmed by the fears and uncertainties that may be revealed within us. We fear that silence may open the door to insecurities that we have locked away throughout our lives."

What is it about silence that we fear?

Perhaps in our minds silence means that we have nothing to say. (And if that's true, if we have nothing to say, then perhaps in silence, without words to rescue us, we fear our own worthlessness?)

Or perhaps silence reminds us of times when whatever words we used to fill the silence were not heard or valued.

Or it might raise long-buried memories of what we learned (long ago) that we could not say and what we feel we are (still) not permitted to say?

It requires enormous courage to face silence, according to Feldman.

For some, she notes, silence means invisibility and recalls memories of childhood when speaking without permission may have been cause for punishment.

Silence may prove dangerous to face for many of us precisely because of these hidden memories, suggests Feldman. Yet she encourages us to enter into silence to find words.

It's our inner silence, Feldman writes, that empowers us to speak the truths that need to be spoken.

She encourages us to explore the unknown silence and, most importantly, to learn from it.

On this morning's walk, as the sky lightened and a reddish glow appeared in the east, I became aware of sounds: the chirp of crickets; the call of a mockingbird; the hum of an air-conditioner; the distant thrumming of car tires on I-75; the scrape of my sneakers on the sidewalk; the simple sound of taking in a breath and releasing it.

These sounds within the silence reminded me of Feldman's observation:

"In silence we are present with just what this moment offers and are invited to explore the richness of that invitation. We also come to realize how, for much of our time, we have grown accustomed to living in the past or the future, seeking for something we have so far been unable to find in the present."

Now, facing the day's silence at my desk, I want to understand what it is about silence that makes me uncomfortable and how I might "explore the richness of that invitation."

Today I want to accept silence's invitation, and, little by little, learn to stay at my desk in the moment, listening to what silence may reveal.

What can you learn from the streams of silence in your writing life?

How can you embrace what you don't know... and learn from it?

For more information about Christina Feldman and Silence: How to Find Inner Peace in a Busy World, check out:

For an excerpt from her article on "Stillness and Insight," check out:

Other resources on silence and creativity:

Charlotte Bell on "The Music of Silence":

Fred Pfeil on the "Silence Between the Words":

Spiritual Practices--Silence:


jo'r said...

I liked this week’s discussion. Some well-known writers whom I admire have said they prefer music in the background, but I think I need silence to write, nothing to distract my attention from the white screen in front of me. When stuck, I treat it about the same as in ‘mindless’ meditation, where one watches images that suggest themselves, not acting on them, only observing them in passing, until, in the writer’s situation, the same image returns again and again. Then maybe it’s time to let the image into the present writing, try it out for a few sentences, work with it. If the material flows, the practice of mindless meditation can be set aside for a few paragraphs, or pages, until the current working image is exhausted, and new material is needed. I think that’s why I can accept long silences so readily in my writing practice. Even when some modicum of new pages doesn’t show up in a writing session, it was a valuable time for me, if only because I consider silent meditation a treasure in itself.

Your link to spiritual practices and silence yielded this question: “Have you ever found it was necessary to go away just to escape the noise of the modern world? Where did you go and what kind of silence did you encounter?” On three occasions, spanning over about ten years, I went on so-called ‘vision quests,’ to wilderness areas in mountains and a desert. Each involved a solitary, four-day total fast from food. I recall the silence as immense, scary at times, and beautiful. It prepared me, a little, for the silence of writing.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Beautiful post, and a nice link list.