The significance of silence

Recently I drove two and a half hours to visit a long-time friend. Coming from different childhood backgrounds, and following similarly disparate pathways of life, our perspectives mesh and reinvigorate in surprising, and rewarding, ways. As my rickety Subaru accelerated its way north along Lake Superior’s rural coastline, we, too, brought each other metaphorically up to speed. 

My friend had been dealing with incredibly difficult personal circumstances, while I was excitedly returning to university, enthusiastic to re-enter the physical realm of scholarship. Sensing the uneven footing, and slightly unsure of how to navigate our colliding circumstances, I tried to respect that our shared time would not be celebratory. With different reasons driving our desires to ditch town one last time before summer’s end, there was little my friend and I could do but sit and be quiet together. 

Such a way to pass the time is not as wasteful or impersonal as it might seem. My friend and I shared space in mutual silence without any dependence on the other’s words for personal gratification, reaffirming that we valued each other holistically. Instead of attempting to fill a void with words, our individual presences were enough for one other. Not only was it gratifying, but it reified the significance of our friendship. We saw each other, we didn’t talk much, and we were still very close––perhaps even closer than before. 

The realms that benefit from silence extend beyond the social. I’ve always devoured literature and music, and I am grateful for the technology that posits these sources of entertainment and knowledge directly at my fingertips. For much of my young life, I’ve felt a constant urge to satisfy these enjoyments, hip-hopping around from content to content; I would read a book in a cafe, then listen to a different audiobook on the way home, and finally put on music when I cooked my dinner that evening. 

Now, I try to create space for silence each and every day; whether it is at the breakfast table, a park bench, my yoga mat, or anywhere else that I feel inclined to back away from the immediacy, noise, and temptation of over-indulgence. This past July, while I was in the backcountry with my father, I challenged myself to see how long I could sit silently, and just think. Sometimes it was boring. Occasionally my train of thought would stumble across a memory or an emotional trigger that I didn’t enjoy, and my body would want to distract itself. But I tried really, really hard to do absolutely nothing.

Returning to McGill, and along with it, a city populated by over one million people, has reduced the opportunities that I have for true, complete silence. However, I still seek it out, and the effects are worth the while. Without anything else to focus on, the mind quickly processes its most pressing matters, sifting its way through the stressors of school, friends, family, careers, and anything else that’s there for it to digest. With these thoughts washed and hung to dry, I find myself more capable of attending to these responsibilities with patience and focus—and with an ease that I hadn’t had previously. Additionally, these moments of quiet and stillness have become increasingly enjoyable. There’s something warm and comforting in the knowledge that wherever I may be, such peace is available.

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