Understanding the Meaning of Silence

A few months ago I wrote about the impact of noise – the constant din of traffic, flight patterns, crowds, etc. that we generally live with these days. Whether it’s an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or a decreased sense of mental well-being, we all pay a price for civilization’s soundtrack. I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject since that post and the thoughtful comments folks shared in response. (I have my contemplative moods like anyone else.) As is often the case with questions of health, the real issue isn’t just what to avoid (e.g. noise) but what to embrace in its stead. Loud and/or chronic noise is annoying, grating, even downright unhealthy. We agree we could all use less clamor in our lives, but is it as simple as turning down the volume in our society? Is silence just the absence of noise, or is there something deeper that defines silence – something we’d do well to understand, contemplate, or invite into our lives? When it comes to the real power of silence, does the peace stem simply from the quiet?

As intuitive as the benefit of silence seems, there’s little research about the impact of silence itself. Noise is bad, studies tell us. The absence of it is better. We got that part.

Ultimately, however, silence is less a set of conditions than an experience. The question then remains: what fills in the picture here – the differentiation of a quiet environment from the experience of silence? Beyond that obvious sense of quiet, silence has been associated with everything from “simplicity” to “great stillness” to an emptying of worldly desire. As author George Prochnik explains in his book In Pursuit of Silence, “The loudest argument for quiet may be a reflection on what otherwise remains in danger of going unheard.” What is it that we’re listening for? What are we hoping to apprehend or appreciate when we peel away the layers of noise from our lives? For each of us, perhaps, a different answer may come to mind.

Since that last post I’ve picked up a few books – some the products of my own explorations and some referrals from a number of you all: Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence and Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence, to name two of them. Gordon Hempton, for his part, sets out on a cross-country quest to witness the state of silence across parks, cities, and rural lands of the U.S. Just as he offers us the small, personal details of his adventure, he also unearths often obscure but significant policies that have influenced the American soundscape. During his travels, he actually records (and graphs for readers) the “Sonic EKG of America” that includes everything from birdsong in rural Montana to sounds of the ceremonial protocol at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Sara Maitland, on the other hand, takes on a more emotionally focused journey to live a life infused with silence. She travels and moves to different settings in search of the environments and experts that can help her understand the possibilities inherent in cultivating silence in her life. Yet, she struggles with her purpose or intention in seeking silence. Is it about letting go of the identity and desires of this life, as some experts and meditation teachers tell her, or is it about creating mental space to hone her creative energies for her writing, a hope she hangs onto with conviction? At the end of her quest, she remains somewhat frustrated with the lack of a resolution but resigns herself partially to the contradiction.

Although the wanderer in me enjoyed Hempton’s travel accounts of his cross country search, I identified most with Maitland’s insights about silence: that silence “has no narrative” and “intensifies sensation,” “blurs the sense of time,” that the minimizing of possessions in itself reduces a kind of metaphorical noise in our lives, among many others. However, her most salient point for me, I’d say, was her connection of silence with the pre-linguistic, pre-logical “seedbed of self.”

From my own perspective, understanding silence (among other things) has increasingly been an attempt toward grounding these last few years, a burrowing deep into what I’ve come to identify as a Primal, elemental level of consciousness – or unconsciousness – as certain thinkers have described it. Silence isn’t just an effort toward relaxation or an escape from modern layers of busyness but a reconnection in some regard with what is most natural, most essential to our still-present Primal selves. It’s reconnecting with what the body and brain expect. It’s taking on what Jung called the “frustration of instinct” in modern life.

Silence, of course, never had full claim on our days. Beyond the natural sounds of the wild environment around us, our ancestors embraced noise as much as they lingered in relative quiet. Sure, trying to spend time in more natural soundscapes is a major overlay of this endeavor, but there’s more to it than just time in the woods.

Jung notes we naturally seek out noise because it suggests human company – the comfort and safety of the group, without which we wouldn’t have lasted. Nonetheless, we lived more fully in our senses in those times. Our lives depended upon our adaptively full, innate attention to our environment.

Robert Wolff in his book called Original Wisdom, writes about the “overload” of our modern environments. He offers, “I am certain I am not the only one who has to turn off some senses in a supermarket or in a train station or in an airport. …One learns – has to learn – to shut off some senses, to protect oneself from all that noise.” Sound familiar to anyone? But our efforts to cover the noise or use other sounds to induce relaxation can backfire. In research comparing the physiological responses to soothing music and silence, for instance, silence still wins on the relaxation front. (So much for that Yanni CD.)

For me, striving toward silence has been two things. It’s been about spending as much time as possible in environments that don’t necessitate a deadening of the senses. Yet, it’s also largely been an attempt to shut off the mental chatter, to forget putting words to anything altogether for a few minutes. Truth be told, I have a hard time banishing all thought and releasing all perception. Better for me, I’ve found, to not shut out the scenery but slip into it, to more fully attend to and apprehend what’s around me (the simpler and more natural the surroundings the better) without words but with the senses. In this regard, silence for me has become less an introversion or escape than an individually measured, deliberate approaching of where I’m at. More than experience, the most life-giving silence is experience with.

My perspective and Primal take conjures silence not as audible absence, finally, but as a route to sensory fullness. It marks a starting or reset point from which I can reintegrate my senses and recalibrate the pull and distortion of constant rational assessment (e.g. the day’s planning, decisions, and judgments). It’s silence, finally, less as remote sanctuary and more as innate Primal retreat.

Thanks for reading today. Let me know your thoughts on how you think of and find silence in your day. Have a great week, everybody!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

75 thoughts on “Understanding the Meaning of Silence”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Interesting topic. Sometimes I plug in music to drown out the other sounds going on; I wish it was easier to get silence when you want it!

    Here are the ways I get silence in my day:
    –My husband gets home from work later than I do. While I do things around the house before he gets in I keep electronics off, turn the lights down, and basically mellow out.
    –When I read (every day) I always have silence. I guess I hear the sounds outside of Manhattan but they are muffled and kind of comforting, not distracting.
    –I like to wake up early and enjoy silence before the day starts 🙂

    I liked what you said about slience not having full claim on our days – it would be almost eerie to have complete silence! But I do think we are overstimulated, and not just from noise. Visual overstimulation is probably just as rampant! Isn’t there some statistic that says we see over 3000 ads every day? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more than that.

    Anyway, cool topic and I am interested in what other people have to say!

    1. I read everyday as well but I have been reading aloud recently. It enables me to retain more of what I read. I just finished reading Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution for the second time and retained SO MUCH MORE information this time around then the first time.

      I understand that reading a book twice aloud or silently will help you retain more information but reading aloud makes such as HUGE DIFFERENCE AS WELL. It’s amazing.

      I also think outloud too. It just helps me to get more excited and to really feel my thoughts. If I have a good thought then I will shout it out to the world so I am sure to act on it.

      We think 68,000 different thoughts every single day. Most just pass right by. But if we SHOUT out that thought then it is more likely to stick with us!

      And yes it would be crazy to have full silence. It would maybe feel like you are the only one left in the world! I think it would be cool to try this for maybe a week though. It would be a great experience!

      I have always thought about going on a one week silence retreat. It’d probably change me for life!

      1. Hey Toad,

        I really appreciate your comment here. I also read out loud, think out loud, and hash out ideas I am considering out loud. My kids think I am crazy, and sometimes I wonder if I am not at least partially there 😉 . But regardless, I retain nearly zero content when I read silently, and my thinking is all jumbled and unclear until I start talking it out. I think that engaging multiple senses (thinking, seeing, hearing, speaking) helps to ingrain the content into our minds better, and the verbal expressions force me to clarify my thoughts into coherent strings of words (otherwise known as sentences and clear ideas).

        So if we’re crazy, so be it. Seems to work, I’m happy with it.

  2. I live in a small city in the Rocky Mountains that has a two week ‘freedom festival’ leading up to July 4th which includes unlimited fireworks at any hour of the day or night. The sounds are enhanced by the echoes off the local mountains. It is impossible to find silence during this period, and I notice the effect on people, pets, and wildlife. I usually walk in the evenings in a relatively undomesticated area, and the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about Americans sense of privilege around making noise. Four wheelers in undeveloped areas, low-flying helicopter trips for fun, thump-thump of aggressive bass in cars, I’m sure everyone has their own list of noise noise noise. Humans and other animals did not evolve to handle this kind of massive aural input — nor did the plant life. We don’t know how it might weaken structures — natural or man-made. I do know that it does, slowly but surely, make me crazy if I can’t find long stretches of silence. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Mark. Not only should we seek out silence — inner and outer — but it wouldn’t hurt to bring more silence into culture.

    1. I agree, Emma, and very nicely put! As the saying goes: “Silence is Golden” 🙂

  3. Great topic, Mark! I’ve always been inclined to silence, more so than others maybe. I LOVE silence. It’s calming and makes my mind feel sharp and healthy. A lot of my musician friends keep music on all the time and, while I’m a musician, I do not. I also once moved out of an apartment with a girl who kept the tv on for background noise.

    But even if we make a deliberate choice to enjoy the silence, we still don’t get enough of it living in the busy city. It’s good to remember to get up to the mountains or out to the beach or desert to really experience the world and ourselves the way we were meant to be – the way we lived for a hundred thousand years. It is a dream of mine to someday live quietly in the hills somewhere…

    1. And even in the mountains or at the beach… it’s not silence so much as the sounds of nature.

      I recently moved from a very quiet neighborhood (only the light hum of the interstate early in the morning) to steps from the beach, and the crashing waves are much louder but very calming. When the trade winds pick up, it can get even noisier… but even the waves and the breeze in the trees are still lovely and somehow silent.

      (and tv as background noise?? egad…)

  4. The most profoundly still and peaceful moment I’ve ever experienced in my life was floating facedown in shallow water at the Chesapeake Bay while wearing a snorkel and mask. When I closed my eyes, there was nothing but the undulations of the water on my body – my ears were beneath the water line – and the sun on my back. Silence, stillness and a reddish dark; I imagine it recalled subconscious impressions of the womb.

  5. I think the Zen thing, being aware of one’s breathing, can really help get a person to this silent place. For me, swimming laps and walking a slack line also cause a type of focus that puts me in a peaceful moment. I need to get to that place more often, a place I think of as “just being”.

    1. Where did you buy your slack line? It was set up at Primal Con and I don’t remember the brand they had. I want to get one at some point.

  6. I am hard of hearing, and it’s a pleasure to turn off my hearing aids at certain times when noise is just way too intense. It’s one of the positive outlooks I have about my situation. My parents gave me a small plaque for Christmas once that said ‘Moments of silence are part of the music’. I still carry that quote with me in my head today.
    Living in a very small prairie town (population: 300-ish) I take pleasure in my walk to work at 7:30 in the morning. To hear the wind, birds, and grass rustling is my favorite ‘noise’ of the day 🙂

    1. Oh I’m jealous!
      I currently live in one of those housing areas where they plopped down 1 house next to another and it’s nothing but kids screaming and rolling their electric cars up and down the sidewalks.

      I sure miss my parents house in Germany, it was located 10 minute walk from the national german forest with hundreds of km of trails and wildlife. I used to take my german shepard through the forest and over nearby farm fields almost daily, no cars, no people, just an air plane once in awhile.

  7. I just want to recommend alpine earplugs. They have exchangeable filters for different kinds of activities (sleep, work, swimming, travel, music etc…).

    They are washable too and last at least 6 months of daily use if taken care of, so they are quite cheap in the long term. I always carry a pair of them in a pillbox on my keychain just in case. It’s possible to custom fit them by cutting them down in size with scissors.


  8. Mark, This reminded me of the story of George Gurdjieff – an early 20th century thinker.

    Someone asked him why he sits in a crowded cafe in Paris and writes about deeply philosophical matters. Why doesn’t he go to the Alps instead and write in Silence.

    He said – “In the mountains, the silence is of the mountains – I need to be silent within to write, and if I have internal silence, it does not matter whether I am in a cafe or in the Alps.”

    Very timely article.. The external noise in our lives is only destined to increase..

  9. What a fabulous post for today! We live on a reservation where fireworks are big business and every July 4 is a war zone. This morning I sat outside so appreciating the silence. No fireworks, weed eaters, lawn mowers. Even the birds were quiet. Blissful.

  10. Of course, that might be Gurdjieff in show-off mood.

    When an American lady said to him something along the lines of “I was able to keep my mind clear just like you say we should try to, Mr Gurdjieff”, he asked how long this was for. She replied that it was for 20 minutes. Gurdjieff gave her a very Russian look (though I think he was actually Georgian) and said “Not possible; not even possible for mother of God.”

    That’s a more realistic estimate of the possibility of being “silent inside”—even if not in a Parisian cafe.

    Besides, who says _writing_ would thrive on that? T. S. Eliot said he thought a certain level of “sickness” was more productive of poetry.

  11. Appropriate for the 5th of July. Fireworks in my neighborhood continued well past midnight with the whiz bang and rattle. Finally put in my earplugs. I often forget how soothing it is to hear nothing but your own heartbeat. Womblike, I would guess.

  12. Interestingly, there’s a very polarizing film out right now called the Tree of Life, and I believe the negative reactions are directly related to this topic.

    There are prolonged scenes of “nothing happening” in the traditional narrative sense. If one is unprepared, you’re left with your own interior chatter. This is likely way too uncomfortable for most movie going folks. I’ve seen many walkouts by people visibly annoyed, and this is in art house theaters!

    There is great use of cinematic silence and brilliant sound design in general, where everything is mostly naturalist but then just not quite real, indicating it is a second-order poetic meditation on naturalistic environments. It’s as if Malick (writer/director, my favorite) shaped the sonic environment to reset our own sense of place and memory. Attention is paid to so many small but significant the way sunlight pierces through tree branches, or the gentle sighs of a napping newborn, the nostalgic warm choir of crickets at the end of a day in small town, USA. One of the themes is how easily we overlook what is obviously all around us. When nothing is happening, everything is happening.

    It’s all very primal to experience art like this!

  13. Back in ’89 spent a week in Christchurch NZ, it was eerily & disturbingly quiet. Took me a while to figure it out: NO sirens & the the constant cacophony of noise we’re accustomed to with city life here from police, ambulances, fire trucks, car horns, mysterious explosions, Harleys, etc. It was nice, but sad to say it took a while to get used to & prefer the silence.

  14. I think man-made noises are annoying and quite taxing. Especially the constant sound of traffic.

  15. i can’t thank you enough for continuing this discussion, mark! i was so glad to see the Wildness and Wonder link over the weekend, too. i’ve recently been going through a really rough patch in life and it’s made me realize that i have a serious problem with anxiety. while i’ve been primal for over a year, and my physical health has significantly improved. my mental health on the other hand, just wasn’t getting enough attention.
    the solution? meditation. seriously. a youtube video of guided meditation a day, plus remembering my calming breathing as often throughout the day as i can. but i can’t say enough for meditation — you have no idea how busy your head is until you try to quiet it down. self-talk is a POWERFUL tool, and the better i get at hearing my own voice, and quieting the ruckus that booms inside my mind, the easier it is to stay primal physically.

  16. Hard to get away from noise. But it’s wonderful when you can. I normally listen to music in the car, but sometimes I take some time off, unplug, and just listen to the sound of the engine…

    Getting out into the mountains is also a great way to get away from all the noise, too…

  17. May the main difference between natural and man-made sounds, simply be that the latter is man-made. You cannot be mad at a bird or cricket for making noise. You can be annoyed by the sounds cars and airplanes. The destroy our environment, but more importantly do not show any respect for our us by forcing their noise on us.

    I ones read that people cannot distinguish between a far away highway and the sound of the wind blowing through a forest. For our stress level it makes a large difference, though.
    Also being able to turn of the noise, makes noise a lot less annoying.

  18. Nice to see Gordon Hempton mentioned. I’ve got one of his environmental, binaural records of a midwestern thunderstorm that I listen to in meditative moments (to drown out the traffic noises outside my window).

    I consider myself ‘sensitive’ to noise–and notice it in situations where most people don’t. My favorite example is music piped into indoor spaces. Most restaurants seem to have lost track of the idea of music as *background*–more often than not, it’s at a level you have to talk OVER.

    The office manager where I work INSISTS that there be a satellite radio station on–she HAS to have it on–but I’ve tried turning it off in her absence, and it’s taken her days to notice it’s not on anymore. Oh, and she’s the only one with a door that closes–so she can concentrate when she wants to. The rest of us? Forced to listen to the same 200 songs over and over and over and over….

    I remember my Dad taking me to Death Valley when I was 10. He pulled over miles from anything and we got out of the car. He wanted me to hear what silence sounded like. It was very disorienting! I think I said something like, “…it’s so LOUD!”–but he told me I was probably hearing the blood pumping near my eardrums…

  19. Sometimes it’s good to just sit quietly working on your own project. Going for a walk also does wonders, and if you have your iPod/MP3, put the headphones on, but leave it off. People tend not to interrupt your thoughts that way 🙂
    I love reading your primal tips! I’m far from being anywhere near primal, but it is good to know that others find such joy and health in it!

    1. I get annoyed by earphones. I mean, sometimes they can be great. But people need to realize that they would probably be able to manage their stress more effectively if they were not listening to something all the time!

  20. Did you purposely publish this article the day after the 4th of July or did it just kind of happen like that? I mean… I wonder how many BAMS were heard last night around the country?!

    I have flirted with the idea of silence before. I rarely get enough of it today and will begin to “focus” more and more on trying to get more silence into my life on a daily basis. I enjoy listening to mellow music. My favorite artist by far is Jack Johnson. The music is so incredibly soothing and relaxing. JJ makes me appreciate life more than any other artist.

    I love rock n roll and more music that is “loud” as I love to dance. I used to despise rap but if I want to fast dance then I kind of need a hip hop deal. Rock n roll will do as well but I no longer mind some rap.

    So I love listening to JJ but I feel like I should embrace silent moments. What about sitting outside listening to the birds chirp, bunnies hop and squirrels chase each other? Does this NOT count as silent activity?

    Perhaps I should star graze on a nightly basis. Maybe I will make it my nightly activity prior to slipping under my comforter.

    Either way I will continue to enjoy mellow music such as JJ as I feel it is close to silence and then embrace true silence on a regular basis. I may start small. Maybe meditating as in just walking around or standing in silence for 5 minutes will work?

    Getting excited to try.

  21. Thank you, Mark! I’ve always avoided hair dryers and vacuum cleaners and just about everything loud for as long as I can remember! I just can’t stand the noise!

  22. I started reading this article in complete silence and halfway thru my 2 sons and their friends came in with a riotous amount of noise. So much for getting thru 1 silent article.

  23. I’m in the Sara Maitland camp. Practicing meditation helps the mind to focus. Once able to focus extraneous circumstances should not have any effect on a focused mind. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior (or rob your peace) without your consent.” I feel nothing should have any negative effects on a healthy organism. Eat well, exercise, play and focus.

  24. Yes, yes, yes! The “seedbed of self.” Another excellent, thoughtful piece, Mark. Primal eating does seem to lead to more primal thinking… it’s wonderful that way!

  25. I’ve spent the last 15 months with no radio on, no news, only very select TV programmes that I’ve previously recorded to watch when I choose. I’ve hardly even played music.

    It has made a huge difference and I feel more well (mentally) now than at any time in the last 30 odd years.

    We were away camping this last weekend and the next door tent had a radio on constantly – I can’t tell you how intrusive I found it – to the extent I used some of our choice of music (some Mozart) to try to create a balance – it kind of worked but it made me realise just how much I value just hearing my own thoughts these days.

    However, for a little music that allows for space and thought (in fact it seems to mysteriously facilitate that I find) and is totally relaxing, I recently discovered Avro Part’s Alina (minimalist piece written in the mid 1970s) is quite remarkable. An silence is certainly part of that music.

  26. One of my most memorable travel experiences was sleeping out under the stars in the middle of the Gobi desert in Outer Mongolia. There wasn’t a tree or a dwelling or any obvious life for miles and the desert was virtally flat. And what was it in particular that was so incredible about that experience?

    It was the absolute silence. Even now 10 years later I’m still left in awe of the experience. I’ve never experienced natural silence like it.

    Mind you, the silence got pretty noisy – suddenly you’re aware of just how noisy all the internal goings on in your body are!

  27. Great stuff; I love these thoughtful, reflective posts from you, Mark. As a practicing Buddhist, I really identify with your definition of silence – that deep focus on the here and now that bypasses thought and connects directly to experience. Not to mention the huge difference between artificial and natural sounds. I think you can have silence amid natural noise, more so than amid man-made noise. The best, most enjoyable time I’ve spent this year was on the Gulf, early morning swimming with lots of natural noise and no humans or man-made noise at all.

  28. I’ve found only two ways that really work for me. Generally on a Sunday morning I’m awake an hour or two before my wife and I’ll leave the tv off and just enjoy the silence and the really peaceful feeling that comes along with it.
    Also, I’ve stopped listening to music when I go running. I run around the lake near my house barefoot, and I find listening to music ruins it for me. When I just embrace the silence it allows me to feel the environment around me whereas music tends to cut me off from it.

    1. allows you to be more vigilant and avoid stupid mistakes. now that primal

  29. Sadly I carry my own noise where ever I go. The tinnitus in my ears is pretty loud.

  30. One of the things I look forward to in the week is the final segment of CBS Sunday morning which is always simply a natural landscape and the natural sounds that accompany it. I remember when I thought those segments were boring. Now they give me a nice breather during the week. I’ve learned to pay very close attention. There is certainly something ironic about enjoying the peace of nature on a recorded television program but I don’t get nearly enough of that kind of time otherwise.

  31. I’ve been experimenting for the last few days with trying to hear and speak fewer words. That is, I eliminated reading news and listening to it on the radio (no tv already), and I stopped reading the books I was in the middle of. This was inspired by the link over the weekend to Michael Taft’s article about a 90 day retreat with no talking.

    I have noticed that in these past few days, music has taken the place of words and talking. This seems ok to me. Some of the music has words. This is ok too, because they are not linear, logical words, but rather poetry. Poetry doesn’t seem to clutter up the mind in the same way that prose does.

    I am obsessed with My Morning Jacket’s album Circuital. It seems quite profound and to be, in part, about surviving the great transition humans are going through, to a post-industrial world.

  32. Being born with bilateral profound hearing loss, I find silence a luxury enjoyed by few. Silence – and the inevitable social isolation that ensues when I was young – gave me more time to self-reflect and engage in philosophical thoughts. I spent a lot of time reading – silent reading as well as reading out loud to myself just to practice the art of speaking – and thinking. Even during the time when I play the piano, there was nothing else – just silence – enveloping the gorgeous sound of the piano, made the whole experience of piano playing an extremely therapeutic and soulful experience. I am actually glad that I was born this way. I developed the skill of creating a focused silence at will amidst background noise (not all though) and distraction. Personally, I saw it as an opportunity for self-development and practising the art of stillness. Of course, being able to turn off my hearing aid and sleep in silence is a nice bonus! 🙂

  33. Sometimes I like noise, sometimes I like silence, sometimes something in between. The most important thing to my mental and emotional equilibrium is being able to choose my own soundtrack. Being subjected to someone else’s stereo, screaming kids, dog, whatever… that puts my blood pressure right through the roof. I am always careful not to impose the soundtrack of my life on anyone else, and I expect the same courtesy. It’s not always easy to find.

    1. Amen to that. I wish I had some tech gadget that would shut down the cars and stereos of those inconsiderate drivers who insist on “sharing” their music with everyone.

  34. Interesting topic. Sometimes, I find myself becoming stressed due to the noise of the modern world. And when that happens, and I have the chance to go for a walk in the woods, I always find the absence of these civilizational sounds and the abundance of the sounds of the forest help to soothe my nerves. Almost instantaneously, my stress levels drop and I feel much better.

  35. Timely and insightful as always Mark. Another resource worth reading is Garret Keizer’s: The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise, an interesting fact filled book that attempts to utilize noise and its impact as symbol or way of understanding many issues we face today. Largely successful in his attempts, I found it a worthwhile read, especially in tandem with the more emotionally charged “Silence” by Maitland.

  36. …I generally find silence either during a long walk, or if in the city or hectic areas, in churches/museums when there is nothing going on. I find it really useful both to find silence in an outdoor setting that allows me to connect on a different level to my surroundings, but also to find silence in the entirely man-made arenas, such as an empty church, or even the empty office. Both are so very different, but also so very rewarding for me in their own way.

  37. I myself find getting away during work is one of the most relaxing moments I can enjoy. I on one hand have the unique job where I can be in a place of total solitude after my morning run. Time space and a separation of 70miles from mainland US has that effect on a someone. I find that you are able to find that spot if able, it does not have to be that far off shore if you look hard enough..

  38. A few years ago I took a road trip with my husband and three other adults. The two other women in the group asked what music I liked in the car, and I said honestly, without thinking about it, “None.”

    They were so shocked and offended, but of course they didn’t say anything. They both brought iPods and sulked because I didn’t want to listen to the The Lion King all the way across Texas… (and complained to the leader of our little expedition about how I was no fun and ruining the trip–passive aggressive little harpies.)

    But at least I got blessed quiet for the ride.

  39. Since having a child a couple years ago, I like to get up earlier than everyone else in the house, sit in the quiet house, drink my cup of coffee, and just…Be. That is the only time during my day that I am alone, my Me time, my Silent time – and it is a time I treasure. This was a most excellent post today.

  40. Ralph Waldo Emerson was quoted as saying, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” I find that having a time of quietude is a favorite and essential part of my day. In fact it:
    :: reduces stress levels
    :: offers a way to be grateful for things that are obscured by the noise of daily living
    :: allows more and better sleep with less incidence of sleep related disorders
    :: generally fills me with a sense of well-being and contentment
    :: reduces headaches, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, muscle tension and back pain, and
    :: allows me to have higher levels of concentration and therefore productivity

    I’ve heard it described as observing the space in a room instead of the objects in it. A silent mind, freed from the onslaught of thoughts and thought patterns, is both a goal and an important step in spiritual development. Such “inner silence” is not about the absence of sound; instead, it is understood to bring one in contact with the divine, the ultimate reality, or one’s own true self, one’s divine nature.

    The best times of the day for me are either early morning or late at night, especially if you are outdoors at the beach or next to lake or a river. I find that the noise of water is very soothing if you focus in on it, instead of trying to block it out.

    So in short that silence is the secret to sanity.

  41. There’s a lot of chatter here for a post on silence…. 😉

    More seriously, I think the idea of silence as “being here” is a good one. Silence isn’t just a quest for time for me free from the noise of other people; it’s a way to be more present for others when the situation warrants. It’s selective, knowing when to listen, when to speak, and when to shut up. That’s much harder than saying (or listening to) nothing.

  42. Growing up, whenever we woke up or walked into the house, first thing someone would do would be turn on the tv. It never mattered that no one was in the room to watch it.

    I spent a lot of time alone outside reading. Looking back, I think it was a way to find quiet.

    We once took my grandmother to a waterpark. Know what she complained about? The NOISE was making her tired. She lived in New York! I never understood how noise could make her tired and stressed. I do now.

    I now turn the tv on only to watch a movie every once in awhile. I don’t listen to the radio in the car. I prefer the silence. Too much outer noise exhausts me. It creates a stressful distraction to the life around me.

    So many think I am odd for this. Thanks for posting this.its nice to know I’m not alone in my desire for silence or ‘natural’ noise.

    1. “Too much outer noise exhausts me.”

      Same here, I don’t have the car stereo on either. So annoying!
      I also always thought I’m odd for this or was labelled ‘anti-social’, when in fact all I want is silence.
      People talk too much these days. Standing in the store or looking into cars driving by just about everybody has a cell phone glued to their ear…yack yack yack yack yack.

      What is there to yack about in a store? “Hi Liz, I’m in the store right now omagosh I’m so excited, I’m in the store, omg…”
      “Omagawd you won’t believe what I’m doing right now. I’m driving down the road with my cell phone on my ear…omagawd, quick where’s the lube?…”


  43. Another view point, I, because of work, am hearing impared. When the time came and I had to accept hearing aids, I walked out of the office and could not believe the level of noise that I had the pleasure of not hearing for years. It honestly made my eyes squint. Traffic, airplanes, birds, dogs, and people talking on their cell phones loud enough they did not need the phone the person could hear them wherever they were! That night I realized that Georgia has crickets and tree frogs. now taking the aids out and going to bed is a trip back to my happy place.

  44. Great post. I physically crave quiet often….It really calms my nerves. Sometimes when my house is full of noise (kids, tv, appliances) I find myself literally shaking. I do feel that primaly we are wired to be calmed by the quiet noises of nature (birds, breeze through the trees, raindrops, ocean waves) and it something that we humans do not get enough of today.

  45. I am a quiet addict. There is nothing more refreshing in the world… than a crisp morning… and nothing… not a peep. Granted there’s nothing louder in the world than silence at the wrong moments as well….funny how that plays out.

  46. Giving yourself quiet time is essential to knowing how you feel, checking in on yourself. It is also essential to thinking, imagining, brainstorming. Try driving with the radio off, or eating lunch by yourself. When I first tried it I had recurring thoughts or song lyrics playing in my head, but my husband wisely advised me that those were my thoughts at that time, and no less valid. If you can stay with it, a little bit each day, the inner chatter gets more simple and more refined. Great topic!

  47. I like this. We really should think twice about that Yanni tape. The loud noises for sure, but it’s that canned music that really offends me. In the shops, the markets, the airports, in medical offices. Music is powerful; it is even manipulative. If I really listened to it, I would identify with the traumas of young love all the blessed day. Perhaps there’s a connection between love songs and increased consumerism. What do you think?
    “Connect, Only connect.” That’s Forster. But everyone is watching screens and listening with earphones. This is what is called “being connected.”

  48. Noticing how much noise appliances make, particularly refrigerators.

  49. I absolutely love silence. I find noise to be extremely annoying. I don’t go out to clubs or hang out with people for the reasons that others prefer noise or talk of some sort, at all times. Even when my mom comes to visit, I have to explain to her that I need my time alone in silence ( because she talks so much that I just have to tune her out ). All my friends always ask me don’t you get bored being alone in your house all the time, but I never get bored, I love it. I love my peace and quiet, it helps me to stay aware and in the present moment. I noticed if I don’t do my daily dose of silence for at least 20 or 30 minutes, things shift in my head.

  50. I teach 8th grade, and the only time we get silence is during testing! When it’s nice out, I take my lunch (only 20 minutes!) and sit outside, get my D and some quiet too. The rest of the teachers think I’m weird, but whatever. I am lucky enough to keep my horse near a state park, so when I really need some peace I’ll ride her to the park. We both just take deep breaths, and really observe the beauty around us. Wonderful in any season, and so relaxing.

  51. Speaking of soothing music, how does metal do in that case? I listen to death metal on a large pair of noise canceling headphones to drown out the 3-4 various phone calls other people around me seem to be on whilst at work.

    I do find it relaxing, believe it or not. Then again, I’ve been known to fall asleep while listening to Slayer.

    Some music does tend to make me more alert, but more in the sense of being able to concentrate on my work rather than in terms of excitation. Hearing other people talk in the background steals my focus, and I’m no longer in a state of flow.

  52. Silence came unexpectedly while walking in the desert very near to the tourested sites in Arches National Park in Utah. 10 minutes from the parking lot and complete and utter silence except for the jets at 40,000 feet which were strangly audible. I was profoundly moved and have never experienced such a thing since.

  53. I Love silence…it’s in our self… only can feel it, when we have stress of living & finding reason why we are here, what are we doing, why we need to go across all this dificullty,,,, That’s where silence come in to when u search for the reason of living…

  54. I live in town, work in a retail store on a busy road and do most of the family shopping. Also have an autistic 8 year old son, who I love dearly but he does love to chatter incessantly. Silence is indeed golden 🙂

  55. Absolutely agree with your article and I love the part where you state about ‘being in the experience with.’ I’ve been studying alot about silence recently. We often take silence as something ‘to just fill a gap of space’ or ‘a period of nonspeaking.’ However, silence, to me, is more than that. It’s an effort to give space to the inexpressible, allowing the unheard to be heard. It is not about the structured performativity of it but rather, like you said, “being in the experience with something.” Silence allows us to perform meditative thinking which lets us see how things that don’t go together go together. It gives us a form of awareness and provides us with the ability to cultivate our inner life. Most importantly, silence allows us to connect with one another through recreating space and time as a depth that may become inhabitable by every language.