I’ll never forget my first conscious experience of silence. I was seventeen and standing in the Sahara desert. Now growing up in a city, and living in the Netherlands in general, I wouldn’t know silence even if it bit me in the ass. But the Moroccan desert near Erfoud did the job just after sunset. I suddenly realized there were absolutely no sounds whatsoever, 360 degrees around. It was an overwhelming experience. I was even more astonished to find out that the desert wasn’t even silent –even though there was no sound. It wasn’t empty silence. It was loud silence. It was loud because I could hear every single thought as strong as thunder. And not only mine. I felt I could hear every thought that had ever been thought there. Every feeling that had ever been felt there. It was truly remarkable. So this is what people mean when they talk about a “deafening silence”, I thought to myself. This is how the Sahara taught me that true silence is the beginning of true listening.
Now you don’t need a Sahara to teach you how to listen. Being silent wherever you are right now will open you up to a variety of sounds that you probably weren’t aware of just a minute ago. But I guess I did need a strong silence to make me realize what the deal was. That silence isn’t mute. That space isn’t empty. That both silence and space are not void of something; they’re actually full of something. It’s just not the kind of something that you’re used to! It’s not the fluff, the incessant wishin’ and hopin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’ (and fearin’, if I may add to Dusty Springfield’s famous song) that you usually fill our lives with. When you don’t stuff your life up like a stuffed animal, there’s actually space for something. For life, to be specific. Those are the qualities, the characteristics, so to say, of space and silence that –when allowed- makes them so alive and vibrant and loud.
In those rare moments that you allow silence, when you puncture the firewall of busy-ness, you allow Life to flow on its own terms, in stead of on yours. Which actually is always more interesting. (I’m not saying more comfortable, just more interesting and real.) So next time an unexpected space opens in your agenda, consider not immediately filling it up again. That doesn’t mean hours of being silent or retreats to Bali (although that would be nice). I’m talking minutes, seconds, of suddenly relaxing the skin on your forehead. Lifting your face up towards the sun. Breathing in to say something, but then don’t. With each of those moments, you puncture a little hole into your I’m so busy I’m so busy ‘I’m so busy trance (or whatever trance you’ve got going) through which something truly fresh called Life can flow in.