Recapturing this quality in our daily lives takes practice, but the benefits are immense.
In our society, everyone speaks, but few really listen. We live in a deluge of empty words, overwhelmed by millions of words, noises, and images that reach us everywhere and that pursue us into our few remaining spaces of intimacy.
Anxiety and message saturation generate a great disregard, a permanent distraction that prevents us from really listening. We get used to hearing words that do not tell us anything, empty words without weight in our lives. We find ourselves in a world full of monologues that has a nostalgia for dialogue, a nostalgia for listening, a nostalgia for silence.
The invasion of excessive information overwhelms people, and the transience of the news makes authentic reflection very difficult — if not impossible. Bombarded by messages of all kinds and by different media, we are in everything and in nothing at the same time, remaining indifferent and closed to all authentic listening. All the topics are reported, but little is really assimilated and reflected, causing our thoughts also to become ephemeral and fleeting.
The words of the Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, seem to be fulfilled: “There will come a time when communication will be instantaneous, but people will have nothing to say.”
Silence opens us to life
The great philosophical and spiritual traditions have always recognized the need for silence for an authentic spiritual life, for the cultivation of one’s interiority and the development of thought.
Silence makes authentic listening and dialogue possible, opening us to encounter the other. Silence is the language of love and depth in relationships.
But unfortunately, today silence is something strange, and it tends rather to escape us. Now, all possible silence is occupied with a bombardment of noises. It is as if we had been expelled from interiority to live on the surface of external stimuli, and our life suffers when we forget the importance of silence.
Today, thanks to technology, we have ways of avoiding silence all day, giving us a flattened perspective on life. And it is not unusual to find that the spiritual quests of our times involve craving places of silence. But it is also true that when silence comes, many do not know what to do in it.
There are studies that show the relationship between lack of silence and cardiovascular diseases, and we should take more into account that silence is healthy and noise by its very nature is harmful.
We need silence!
There is in our cities, in our homes, a nostalgia for silence and we could even say, a demand for greater silence. There are homes where music or the television is just a “background noise,” there just to get rid of the silence, making conversations more superficial.
When we want to talk seriously or think in depth, we need to turn everything off, to silence all other voices, to make room for the words that matter to us. We need to be silent so we can listen.
The so-called “crisis of the word” is due to the forgetting of silence, because the crisis of human relationships, misunderstanding, and lack of dialogue have to do with this loss of silence. Learning to speak from silence gives the word back its weight and strength, as Heidegger wrote: “A resounding of the authentic word can arise only from silence.”
Only from silence can a sensible, luminous, penetrating and profound word come forth. Keeping silence means availability; it is openness and enables authentic dialogue.
Silence is also a way of living our relationship with self and with others; it is a way of being in life. To be silent is not to be quiet, but to create a space, a place within oneself to fall back on, where we can rest and where we can listen to ourselves and receive others.
Silence is like a room available in our interior, because above all, silence is listening. Recapturing this forgotten dimension of human life makes us healthier and humanizes our relationships.
The dialogue born of silence
True dialogue requires openness to the other, the will to receive the other and really listen to him, leaving aside our interest and our anxiety. Authentic dialogue involves exposing one’s own heart to the other’s word. It means really receiving it, giving it a place in our interior. There is no authentic dialogue, no true listening, without the renunciation of self-centeredness that prevents us from giving priority to the other.
And for this it is extremely important to overcome our prejudices. To recover silence is to recover an invaluable treasure of human life: the possibility of really growing in our interiority and in our ability to love and authentically dialogue with others.
Silence prepares us to live differently, to have a deeper look at life. The Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “In the heart of silence is a wonderful power of observation, clarification, concentration on essential things.”
The Christian spiritual tradition has practiced silence and has become a true school of spiritual life, fruitful and luminous. Silence in the spiritual life unifies the heart and expands interiority, opening us to a relationship with God in a deeper and radical way, transforming all of life and enabling us to listen attentively to the Word of God.
Those who live from silence before God discover others, the world, life, things, and their entire existence in a new light. Their gaze becomes deeper and they do not stop at anecdotes and superficialities. The gaze that emerges from silence is amazed by the everyday and transmits peace and hope, because it knows how to wait and has broadened its vital horizon.
To recover silence is to recover authentic communication with oneself and with others. To recover it is to live a more human life.
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.