Two ways to experience silence: one deadly, one sustaining

vol. 2 issue 32


There are two distinct ways to experience silence. I realized that unexpectedly today while sitting on the roof of my apartment building. I had gone there to soak up some quiet solace in the sunshine, before the storms on the horizon arrived. Instead, I was harassed by an odd, incessant trio of high-pitched beeps coming from somewhere in the neighborhood below.

I left.

If it’s not leaf blowers, it’s the backing up beep-beep of every vehicle ever manufactured any more. Or, of course, it’s the goddamned helicopters ferrying around one of the Trumps and co. The point is, whether it’s here in the Capital region or wherever you live, there is rarely any silence, and certainly the occurrence of far more obnoxious sounds than what use to be just the more welcome, routine neighborhood sounds of children playing or someone calling for the dog.

There should be no reason any of us just accept the shocking amount of noise that shreds our airspace daily. The horrendous, incessant noise is the real reason I resent the relentless helicopter traffic since the start of this administration, not the upset of the increase in military exercises (even though there are, as regular readers know I have documented).

So, why do we just accept, and accept, and accept this kind of attack on our senses? For one thing, we’re worn down. There is too much noise of all sorts, including bad news, to contend with. But also it’s because inherently, we humans, and especially we Americans, are good as a species. We like to get along, even the squeaky wheels among us. Based on my experience within the science of psychiatry, and from the outside of it, from within various religious groups, and from beyond them, from within the halls of various political parties to observing them, over and again what I have seen is that our basic nature bends toward the sunshine of positivity, love, and kindness. We would rather grow than wilt, and for that reason we like to get along with one another, to cooperate.

This observation is what gives me faith and makes me so certain the freakshow power grabbers here in Washington that I keep writing about are the aberration; eventually they will have to retreat into their chosen darkness, leaving the rest of us to rebuild the day.

Yet, our goodness becomes an obstacle when it is our default setting, not a choice to be helpful and connected. Being so good so as not to make waves leads to just being obedient, and then becoming numb, and then feeling cut off from ourselves in our silence. We turn into sheeple, easily herded in directions those in power want us to go, not the ones that best foster the connected network we might otherwise choose for our personal goals and growth.

It’s become clear to me over the past two years or so of writing docu-mental, that anxiety and depression are inextricably linked to not being in possession of our minds. Because it is through our minds that our hearts, souls, and selves connect. Without these things, what are we? Our bodies?

Hardly. Instead, without these things we are disembodied, cut off from ourselves and from one another.

When we are silent and just accept what comes at us from the outside, including offenses such as noise pollution, we lose touch with ourselves. We disconnect from our truth. We can’t test what’s true, because we don’t even have a sense of what it is to begin with.

That’s why the above image is so powerful to me.

These four siblings whom I photographed in suburban Washington, before the rest of the nation erupted in awakened outrage over the death of George Floyd, were already awake to themselves and to the connections they seek as humans. They were aware of how they had been cut off in all the ways the rest of us are waking up to see has been true for the rest of us, even though we’ve had plenty of time to wake up before.

What got my attention was the loudness of their silence. They weren’t chanting, nor were they marching. They sat on their front porch, silently watching. Silently advocating against silence. Calm, fierce, silent, aware of their impact and of their truth.

Their message that silence equals violence is true in the sense I have just described it, where silence is the same as complicity, whether the silence is a coping mechanism or a conscious choice to allow bad things to happen.

But, the other side of silence is not violent. It is far from it. It is nourishing. It is what I sought on the roof before the beeping sound ripped it to tatters and made me recall one of the first posts I wrote for this online journal of our evolving American minds, one where I wondered aloud why silence wasn’t viewed as a precious natural resource, and why our policies seem designed to destroy it, rather than preserve it.

We can’t connect to others unless we are connected internally…and for that, we must be in possession of our minds.

Where do we go to find them when we’ve lost them?

Naturally, to a place of silence.

I hope you have a quiet moment to till that in the soil of your mind sometime this weekend.

In the meantime, if you are looking for something to watch, and don’t mind being prompted to think, here are some funny but provocative shows to help you consider the paradoxes of diversity and connection, silence and speaking out.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (watch this one first) and Douglass (watch this one right after) on Netflix.

Dave Chappelle: 8:46 on YouTube.

Lodge 49 on Hulu. This two-season series is better than The Big Lebowski, even though that is its Ur self. It is a sweet, silly, just strange enough show without being too groovy, that we’ve been enjoying as a gentle way of entering into the mysteries of pain and pleasure in this human life on Earth.

Mark the Summer Solstice, have a glass of your favorite adult beverage, and I will see you next week.