Who's Afraid of Silence?
A crucial need we easily forget.
Posted Sep 10, 2015
If you are like me, you intensely dislike being subjected to background music everywhere – banks, supermarkets, restaurants, elevators, drugstores, the list is endless. You find the continuous siege by music an intolerable assault on your inner peace. Exposed to the incessant flow of sounds, you experience invasion, rupture, disharmony. And perhaps you feel compassion for the people who work daily in such situations.
But you may not be like me. You may love to be immersed in music. It keeps you company, gives you a rhythm, fires your brain, makes your juices flow. Indeed music has been proven to be a most effective tool in controlling people’s moods and behavior. Background music may raise productivity in work, increase sales, evoke a variety of emotions, make people move faster or slower, perceive time differently, even make them buy French wine instead of German wine or vice versa. And it has also been found to impair our concentration and ability to remember.
It’s not only about music, though. Just as you and I need rest and sleep and a pause from frenzy, we need the relief of silence – both inner and outer. My experience of 45 years’ work as a therapist has shown me again and again how true this is. Silence matters. I see patients deafened by inner and outer voices and sounds and just the sheer perennial pollution of irrelevant stimuli. If we lose our inner silence, we lose our very self.
Yet I have a suspicion. Perhaps we, society as a whole, are afraid of silence. We may have the terror of silence, because silence reminds us of solitude and death. So we protect ourselves from it with many and varied sounds. But, as any decent therapist who is not just fooling around would suggest, how about facing the fear? We might find out that, instead of fearing silence, we enjoy it.
Mind you, I love music. But please give me the blessing of stillness too! I have had the privilege of collaborating with a musician, Maestro Giovanni Carmassi, a formidable classical piano teacher who in my opinion is like a Zen master. In a series of interviews I had him describe his ideas and methods (the result is the book Dal silenzio la musica). Carmassi views silence as the very basis of making music. Music springs from silence, lives for a time, and returns to silence. Music without silence becomes breathless rather than breathtaking.
Those are all reasons why in my work I promote inner silence. Among other things, I ask people to visualize the “temple of silence”: a sanctuary of inner peace into which you may step and where you will be surrounded by profound healing silence that will help you find yourself again. A space inside you that is immune to fear, distraction, or self-pity. Where you can be yourself, and where you can make decisions without interference. A timeless place where you can finally listen to the silence.