The absence of sound has always scared me. It has always seemed to imply the absence of other things to do – of connection, of energy, of things happening and people talking and the world moving.
It can seem like the Veil in Doctor Who’s episode “Heaven Sent,” lurking behind every action we take, every word we say. The possibility always there of things failing and falling flat… of the “nothing” in the Neverending Story, a deep, sad, meaningless darkness. A shadow of the inevitable stillness of death.
Not that I’m melodramatic about it at all, ha.
Fear of the lack of sound has made me nervous about making conversation witty, it’s made me pack my schedule to avoid gaps. If you just keep running, you don’t have to worry about where you are going – right?
But lately I’ve begun to see more than a few chinks in the armor of that logic. That’s thanks in part to yoga, and in part to a very important distinction drawn in the musical Matilda.
Matilda is a girl with a sharp intellect born to anti-intellectual parents. They like to keep things loud – but not at all in a good way. Her parents’ lives are both roaring and vapid, as her mother says in the boisterous song “Loud”:
“Now, here’s a tip:
What you know matters less
Than the volume with which
What you don’t know’s expressed!
Content, has never been less important.
So you have got to be…Loud!
The less you have to sell, the harder you sell it!
The less you have to say, the louder you yell it!
The dumber the act, the bigger the confession!
The less you have to show, the larger you dress it!
You gotta get up!
You gotta get up and be Loud!”
These lyrics ring so true these days… in politics, in entertainment, in how we interact. A flashy presentation and emotional pull wins out over solid substance. We watch bright, fast-paced tv or even shorter online videos, we scroll down an unending lists of attention-grabbing words and images on our phones. We glorify busy and brag of our to do lists.
And so Matilda’s song “Quiet” comes as a bit of a culture shock – but one that is surprisingly refreshing. In it she expresses her frustration with all the noise around her, from chatter to the television, but then is able to focus on what she really needs:
“Quiet…Like silence, but not really silent…
Just that still sort of quiet
Like the sound of a page being turned in a book,
Or a pause in a walk in the woods.
Quiet…Like silence, but not really silent…
Just that nice kind of quiet,
Like the sound when you lie upside down in your bed.
Just the sound of your heart in your head…”
The relevation here, to me, is that there is a difference between silence and quiet. Silence may indeed be defined by what it is not, but quiet is a different sort of animal. A walk in the woods, the turn of a book – it’s contentment. It’s listening for the unexpected, for the genuinely different, for the new. It’s being open and still.
In yoga class, you are often forced to take moments of quiet. These moments might come during meditation at the beginning or during savasana at the end, but they are just about always there. At these times, you are absorbed by the quiet… gently buoyed by the breath of your classmates, by the far-away passing of people outside.
Some might say it’s silly to pay to just sit or lie down in class. But if we don’t, when will quiet really come to the top of our to do list? It could very well be that, for now, we must make it mandatory in a paid class.
Lately I’ve come to think that however we get there, these moments of quiet are crucial-even if not at all easy. Settling into new yoga poses might make your muscles ache a bit at first, and setting into quiet might make your mind itch too. It might even balk and twitch like a trapped animal – after all, we aren’t used to Matilda’s mentality, we are more used to her mom’s.
But to truly start to not just passively consume what’s loud but to engage with what’s true, we first need to hear … to hear other people, hear our world. And to hear, we must first be quiet.