On Silence

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I have recently read two magnificent books on the same topic – silence. One was written in 1948 by Max Picard, a Swiss philosopher of art and entitled The World of Silence, the other – called Quest for Silence (published in 2000) – is a work of Harry Wilmer, a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst. Neither of the books is contemporary, yet it made me think a lot about the noise of the Internet that we are all caught in. Picard does vent against the meaningless chatter of the radio, though, which can be easily related to the worldwide web of words – the endless updates, comments, blog posts that we are flooded with at our own choosing. Wilmer quotes from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra:

“Everyone among them talks – no one knows how to understand any more. … Everyone cackles, but who wants to sit quietly in the nest and hatch eggs?”

I found both books very nourishing and both pointing at what Meister Eckhart called “the central silence, … where no creature may enter, nor any idea, and there the soul neither thinks nor acts nor entertains any idea… .”

I do not have much to add to the wonderful passages from both books. In Wilmer’s book I was especially moved by the chapters dedicated to the trauma of the war (Hiroshima, Vietnam and the second world war with the Holocaust) and the chapter on the Japanese word MA – “the silent space in painting, music, speech, and between things.” The Japanese believe that it is thanks to that opening, that space, that light can shine through. Wilmer devoted a lot of space to communication, listening and silence. I was quite astounded that dolphins communicate by means of the intervals of silence between the sound they emit. For them, silence communicates.

Some of Max Picard’s passages deserve to be quoted extensively. Here I present a handful of them – I believe any comment would be gratuitous:

“When language ceases, silence begins. But it does not begin BECAUSE silence ceases. The absence of language simply makes the presence of silence more apparent.”

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“…language becomes emaciated if it loses its connection with silence.”

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“Silence contains everything within itself.”

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“Here in Silence is the Holy Wilderness…”

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“Speech came out of silence, out of the fullness of silence. The fullness of silence would have exploded if it had not been able to flow into speech.”

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“… the silence that precedes speech is the pregnant mother who is delivered of speech by the creative activity of the spirit.”

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“Silence reveals itself in a thousand inexpressible forms: in the quiet of dawn, in the noiseless aspiration of trees toward the sky, in the stealthy descent of night, in the falling moonlight, trickling down into the night like a rain of silence, but above all in the silence of the inward soul…”

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“Silence can exist without speech but speech cannot exist without silence. The word would be without depth if the background of silence were missing.”

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“Words that merely come from other words are hard and aggressive. Such words are also lonely, and a great part of the melancholy in the world today is due to the fact that man has made words lonely by separating them from silence.”

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“On the river of tears man travels back into silence.”

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“The world of myth lies between the world of silence and the world of language. Like figures that seem to loom larger than life in the gathering twilight, the figures of the world of myth seem huge as they emerge from the twilight of silence.”

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“Ekbatana, the city of the Medes, had seven circular walls, each with different coloured battlements. They were, according to Herodotus, the heavenly spheres enclosing the sun castle, and the obelisks were sunrays in stone. No word could express so well the power of the heavenly spheres as this monument in the silence of stone. In the silence of these stones the heavenly spheres and the rays of the sun lived again on earth, and in their silence one heard their movement in the sky.”

***

“Silence has locked itself up in cathedrals and protected itself with walls.”

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12 Responses to On Silence

  1. I loved this, as a lover of silence myself, and will Share it.

    I think you would love Sara Maitland’s The Book of Silence if you haven’t already come across it: you can see some comments on it in the Look Inside section here:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Silence-Sara-Maitland

    • Wonderful – thank you. I’d never heard of her. With the north node travelling through my 12th house now, I have started to appreciate silence even more. I’m lucky to live in a quiet place, too.

  2. ooops! I must have missed the last part of the above link. Never mind, the book can be easily found…and I’ve just Shared your post.

  3. Dewin Nefol says:

    Dear Monika,

    Silence is a commodity – a living entity – sorely missed in busy lives: your post a poignant reminder of how important it is and how much it might be yearned for.

    I long to return to isolated high peaks, to embrace solitude and befriend silence once more.

    The lines you’ve cited call one to journey: an entice for the mind to find an empty space to pause and ponder. It is as Hafiz suggested: ‘A day of silence, can be a pilgrimage in itself.’ (1)

    Love and Peace, Namaste,

    DN

    (1) – ‘Silence’ by Hafiz – From: ‘I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz: by Daniel Ladinsky

    • Dear Dewin,

      beautifully put and I choose to add nothing. Hafiz never disappoints, neither do you.

      Thank you so much

      Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        In all ways as always ’tis a pleasure to stop by Monika, thank you. I am never disappointed in doing so.

        Ladinsky’s book, (one of several titles by him that sit ever-present on my writing desk) is well-thumbed although, admittedly, not solely as a result of reading. It has become a (somewhat swollen and) convenient storage device for feathers I find on my path, and whilst I keep meaning to move them elsewhere, for some reason I never do. Perhaps it is because they appear to be so much at home remaining just where they are.

        Whether by good fortune or kind fate, Saturday offered an opportunity to wonder in woods and for peace and quiet to prevail. It was most refreshing. I hope you also found such a serene moment over the weekend to hear the sound of silence?

        Have a wonderful week. Take care.

        Love and Peace,

        DN

      • Yes, I managed to spend some time in the mountains. Who knows when the weather changes and it will become difficult. But with the woods on my doorstep and all around me I’m looking forward to September.
        Have a wonderful one yourself
        Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Wonderful! What better place, what better space, than free amongst the mountains. You sound invigorated!

        Why is it among the most
        glacial mountain peaks
        I find
        the greatest warmth?

        ‘Mountain Peaks’ ~ By ~ Ivan Granger

        Thank you: the week ahead for Virgo is benignly influenced by a Stellium: part of a Grand trine. Some say it will be a flavour to savour! So yes indeed, roll-on September!

        Enjoy the woods on your doorstep. Love and Peace,

        DN

  4. lampmagician says:

    Actually, silence is one of my favourite states of being. They are very interesting books, thank you dear Monika. But just a question; I didn’t understand the first book has been written in 2948? Did I miss something in between?

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