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When silence speaks

By G. Balasubramanian

When Francis walked out of the chamber of his boss Robinson, he was silent. His face showed a sense of calmness which could be described as ‘the calm after the storm.’ If one had walked into the chamber and met Robinson at that time, his face also indicated a sense of calmness which could be described as ‘the silence of the clouds after a huge thunder.’

Silence has many faces. Each face of silence conveys a different meaning. “In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves” says Rumi, the famous Persian Poet. Silence could be a symptom of withdrawal, an exercise in controlling one’s anger or other emotions, silence could be a method of negation and refusal, silence could be acceptance of one’s success or defeat, silence could be a display of wisdom, silence could be born out of fear, silence could be to show one’s ignorance, silence could be a preservative of one’s self-esteem; silence could be an expression of helplessness; and it has several other faces. “Silence is a lesson learned through life’s many sufferings” says Seneca. For many, they understand the meaning and significance of silence only through experience and sufferings. For them, silence shouts from the inner core of their heart, but they converse and negotiate with their silence in a mature way.

When silence is in the embryo of pain, it communicates in a low frequency which reaches only a few people, who can understand the intensity of its shout out. Silence nurtured by pain is like a volcano in the making, just waiting for an opportunity to erupt at the call of a right situation; and when it does the lava it throws it has the capacity to burn things all around. It is difficult to listen to its voice, as it is so gruesome that it spells truth which many have ignored or marginalized for reasonably a long time. It provides a cosmetic dressing to every kind of pain – separation, isolation, marginalization, oppression, and suppression. It explains itself in its soliloquy.

When silence is delivered by incompetence, it exhibits pathos. It draws the picture of beggary before the treasury of common sense. It acknowledges years of laziness, effortlessness, procrastination, and lack of focus in life. Standing silent before competence accepting its inferiority, it pleads an excuse for a life of self-contempt and self-pity. Sometimes the silence wears a cosmetic smile to hide its inner robe of intellectual poverty. It is often claimed that “The sound of silence is many times louder than the sound of words”,

There are occasions when one keeps silent when the other person is using irrelevant, useless words and engages in narratives which are of no use or that is enshrined in gossip. Possibly their inner soul is taking a deep breath and their silence is a way of an intellectual sleep to an aggressive mind. “Mounam Sarvartha sadhanam” says a Sanskrit adage. It can convey several meanings to the observer creating a false impression that they care and are being carefully listened to. “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom” observes Sir Francis Bacon

Silence could be a child of fear. When you walk alone in darkness, when you march into unknown places or destinations, when you want to meet people who you think do not match with your stature or vibes, when you are caught in a situation to which you had never been exposed to earlier, when you suffer from an anxiety or anticipatory neurosis, when you face an authority or power that is cruel, vulgar or dismissive, when you position yourself as inferior to anyone other than the self, you are driven by fear which paraphrases the language of silence. Beethoven, haunted by the fear of loss of hearing, wrote a letter to a friend, which was later drafted into a poem by Todd. The lyric reads as follows:

Hear me, brothers —

I’ve a confession painful to make.
Six years I have endured a curse.
that deepens every day. They say.
that soon I’ll cease to hear the very
music of my soul. What should be
the sense most perfect in me
fails me, shames me, taunts me.
A silence haunts me.

Silence could be a conscious withdrawal of the self for an inner journey. It could be an exercise to converse with the self to illumine the nooks of the heart so that life becomes enlightened to serve a broader and larger purpose of existence. Says “Thich Nhat Hanh “Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn't mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you're truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence’. Detailing the power of silence, Khalil Gibran remarks “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.”

Silence could indeed be a blessing. It might have resulted from your inner realisation of truth. Says Benjamin Disraeli “Silence is the mother of Truth”. For some, the inner conversation they hold with the self, unravels the mystery of the existence. This becomes the pathway to an eternal inner journey making them as the messiahs of existential reality. Eckhart Tolle, the author of the book ‘The Power of Now” writes- “Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same ‘nothing’. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”

As I walk into the corridors of the school, I hear my teacher yelling at the students “Keep silent”. As I step into the library, I see the poster “Maintain silence”. As I step into the veranda of the hospital, I see the board “Keep silence”. I don’t see such a board in any mortuary or graveyard; people naturally tend to be silent! There we don’t listen to the silence shouting at the top of its voice ‘Silence is death, please speak”. “When you escape to a desert the silence shouts in your ear”, says Graham Greene

Though Shakespeare says “Silence is the perfect of joy”, there are views that silence can be cruel; it can be an expression of manipulation; it can be an expression of violence and so on. Thus “Silence is one of the great arts of conversation” as pointed out by Marcus Tullius Cicero

It is important to choose when one must be silent or when one must speak. Words are sources of power; words are sources of energy and words can create or kill people. So is Silence. “Be silent or let thy words be worth more than silence,” said Pythagoras.

Next time, when you are silent, please remember, it is indeed a shout out that you are giving to someone because your words are failing you! Remember the words of Thomas Carlyle, “Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as time”.