I wrote this post at the beginning of November, 2016: a few months after the Brexit vote, and just before the U.S. election. One year later, it seems to me that we need moments of healing, grounding, life-affirming silence and stillness more than ever....
It's one more week until the U.S. election. For this and too many other reasons the Internet feels like one giant howl of anxiety, anguish, and rage..And what I've been thinking about lately is silence. There is not enough silence in modern life. I don't mean the complete absence of sound, but those quiet moments when the human world recedes: the haranguing voices of the daily news, the ads that follow us shouting Look at me!, the commercial and cultural sound and fury that makes it hard to hear our own inner voice, our own inner music, or our own heart beating, much less the beating heart of the natural world that we share with our nonhuman neighbors.
I have begun the practice of beginning my days in silence (no Internet, no screens, no news, no music) while I drink my morning coffee...often outdoors, if the weather permits, underneath the old oak pictured here, or in the woods, or another favorite spot close to the studio. Or else indoors, by a window looking out at the birds, the weather, the land. First watching, listening, then some reading (from a printed book, tactile, heavy in my hands). This slows me down; sets the tone for the day ahead; roots me in the physical world and not the manic, noisy, crowded, transitory realm of cyberspace. It prepares me for the deep work of creating by honing the sharp instrument my attention.
If I could gift you with one thing in the anxious week ahead, it would be this. Silence. Blessed silence.
"Why is silence important to writers?" Lorraine Berry asked Utah-based writer Terry Tempest Williams in an interview in 2013. "Is silence something that we all, regardless of whether we’re writers or not, need access to? And how do we find that in our increasingly tuned-in, turned-on world?"
"Silence is where we locate our voice," Williams answered, "both as writers and as human beings. In silence, the noises outside cease so the dialogue inside can begin. Silence takes us to an unknown place. It’s not necessarily a place of comfort. For me, the desert holds this space of quiet reflection; it’s erosional, like the landscape itself.
"You also ask why is it important that writers write and not embrace a life of silence. In many ways, we do embrace a lifestyle of silence, inward silence, a howling silence that brings us to our knees and desk each day. All a writer really has is time. Time to think. Time to read. Time to write.
"Time for a writer translates into solitude. In solitude, we create. In solitude, we are read. If we’re lucky, our books create community having been written out of solitude. It’s a lovely paradox. It’s the creative tension that I live with: I write to create community, but in order to do so, I am pulled out of community. Solitude is a writer’s communion."