Reflections…………………..Sounds of Silence


Hello darkness, my old friend                                       
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
………..Simon & Garfunkel

Tom, former Director of Operations for United States Senator Strom Thurman,  left his position to pursue a long time ambition and ‘calling’ to become an Episcopal priest.  Each morning Tom and I would meet in the fitness center as a means of starting our day, sharing the latest news and enjoy each other’s company. One day Tom informed me that he had to begin a process of ‘prayer centering,’ which required him to get in touch with God and himself while remaining silent.  His first day with this new process was at Saint Mary’s Convent.  The following day Tom’s comment to me was “I lasted ten minutes then I did not know what to do.” 

A rather strange phenomenon is occurring in our culture.  For many of us, silence has become a threat.  There was a time when silence was normal and a lot of noise disturbed us.  But today, noise is the normal fare and silence—-strange as it may seem—has become the disturbance.  I first begin to notice this change when children and adults would say “I am bored, there is nothing to do.” To individuals who find themselves with this thought, silence is threatening.  They don’t know what to do with it.  In their overbooked world filled with cars roaring by, and where everything is in constant motion , they lose their bearings when  they move to where there is no hum of the radio or television, or  there is no music playing. Have you noticed some people can’t study without a solid wall of music surrounding them. It’s some of these same people who are tethered to an ear plug.  If they are forced to sit somewhere  without a constant flow of sound, they grow very nervous.  They have become alienated from silence.

Silence is full of sounds; the wind murmuring, the leaves rustling, the birds flapping their wings, the waves washing ashore, our own quiet breathing, the swallowing in our throats, and the soft patter of our footsteps.  But we have become deaf to these sounds of silence.  Is this what Simon and Garfunkel were speaking of when they said:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more                                        
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

The first research project, in which I was a principle investigator, required  a group of us to develop programs designed to ascertain how visually handicapped and blind persons used their senses for Orientation and Mobility.  Four of the researchers, including myself, had to function without sight, on a controlled basis, for six months.  The result of this outstanding time in my life will have to wait for another blog.  However, I came away from this experience with new insight into life.   It can be summed up by asking myself,  ‘where would I turn when I have no friends to talk with, no music to listen to, no paper to read and no movies to see?’ The question was not whether I could live without friends or without feeding my eyes with new impressions, but whether I could stand to be alone from time to time, without vision, and gently push aside all the assorted noises and sit calmly and quietly. I can recount numerous times when sitting with a visually handicapped individual and they would point out an array of things I could not “see.”

To be calm and quiet by yourself is not the same as sleeping.  In fact, it means being fully awake and following with close attention every move going on inside of you.  It offers the freedom to stroll through your own inner yard and to rake up the leaves and clear the paths so you can easily find the way to your heart.  Slowly and surely you will discover an order and a familiarity which deepens your longing to stay at home and be at peace with  yourself.

“Fools”, said I “You do not know                                     
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence.

Today Father Tom has his own Parish in South Carolina.  Time and distance has come between us since those days in the fitness center.  He relates that “prayer centering’ is a way of life for him and it grows sweeter by the day.  Tom is frequently heard quoting the Psalms:  ‘be still and know that I am God.’ 



Retired in 2008 after 40+ years in education/psychology as researcher, teacher, administrator and college professor.
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