Sound and Silence
I had the experience of singing (as a guest) with a world-class choir. This superb choir plus all the visitors must have numbered 300 people, and the sound produced was so rich, vibrant and coherent, the entire physical space was ringing. Even during the breaks the sound-continuum seemed to carry over, affecting the interactions and mental space of all present. I noted that sound had the power to set an atmosphere, a context in physical space, which affects the internal space and behaviour of those who experience it.
Outside, into the driving sleet and freezing wind of a deserted City the alert vibrancy accompanied me; in the stale rattle and sallow light of the London Tube, the angelic choirs sang in my head, and nothing was a problem. Could I have but maintained this interior space for longer than the day it lasted, I'm sure life would have been transformed!
But that, of course, is the issue. Sound can be a hyper-link to silence, and my pre-occupation with silence is entirely to do with its power to transform versus the sheer difficulty of maintaining an interior silence in daily life. Why, along with the teaching of every world tradition, would one wish to maintain an interior silence? Because it literally transforms everything—everything one touches, experiences, or does. Every action, response, perception emanating from silence has a quality of absolute 'rightness', meeting the need of the time without fuss, personal conflict or manipulation.
And this kind of silence has an odd relationship with certain types of sound --the one produces the other. That vibrant sound in my interior space matching the exterior sound of a multitude of beautiful disciplined voices, had a silence hiding behind every note, like the reverse of the pattern, the warp and the woof of the weave. It is easy to move from one to the other.
So certain kinds of sound offer an access point, a short-cut. I am reminded of the time a couple of years ago when I visited a traditional monastery in the South of France for Vespers (a monastery, unusually for these times, which is flourishing precisely because it maintains the rigour and discipline of its tradition.) The monks' chant filled the chapel with its intention, and when they slowly filed out, still chanting, you could hear the sound gradually dying away into the cloisters, and the chapel was electric with the silence they left behind.
Briefly all the visitors were stunned into stillness, then some Tourista began the inevitable bag-rummage and camera-click, and broke it— like shattering fine crystal into fragments. What an opportunity wasted, I thought. Some people would miss the nose on their face if they never looked in a mirror or caught a cold! Because it does require attention to notice fine things. Which is why it is easy to overlook, doubt or disbelieve anything more subtle than the obvious.
An Indian sage, was asked how to go about finding “what it is that never sleeps, and never wakes, and whose pale reflection is the sense of 'I' “
"How do you go about finding anything? By keeping your mind and heart on it. Interest there must be and steady remembrance. To remember what needs to be remembered is the secret of success."
Remembering looks backward. Sound may help us remember where we have come from, along with other activities like meditation, self-discipline, work, uplifting our awareness by various means.
But silence, if we actually attend to it, is only ever present.