Sounds in Silence

Composer John Cage wrote a famous piece of music consisting of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The idea was to become aware of silence—and then also to begin noticing all the sounds coming from the audience itself. There is no perfect silence that I know of. I would love to hear it though, if there was. Even the idea of being able to hear silence is a bit of a conundrum.

A musician friend of mine made me aware of what she called the symphony of noise all around us—and of the noises I myself contribute to that symphony.

What noises did you contribute to the earthly symphony today? Words of kindness? Or keeping silence when tempted to criticize? Did you actually sing? Did you laugh? Did your brakes screech? Did you snore?

What noises did you listen to today? Water flowing through pipes? A bird’s scrabbling in the dirt? The sound of your loved one breathing softly in his or her sleep? Was it music to your ears? Did you enjoy any moments of silence?

The noises we fill our lives with can soothe or stress us. They can lift our mood or discourage us. John Coltrane said that music can actually change our thought patterns—and it’s true. But not just music—silence, and all of the softer sounds that emerge from it, can hold our attention in a gentler way than this noisy world filled with media, merchandise, and machines.

Particularly in a noisy, often intrusive world, we need to seek silence. Silence itself invites us to listen—in a way that connects, rather than distances us from our world, and our life. And it’s easier to hear the sound of where our life might be calling us, if we listen … listen … to where we are now.

So take time throughout your day to listen—for the space between the sounds. Breathe into that space. Who knows — what might be waiting there?


Go Back to Articles Page

The mind of the day draws no attention to it;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words
Drawing us to listen inward and outward

John O'Donohue, from The Inner History of a Day