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Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

Listening to the Sound of Silence

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"Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..."
~Simon and Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence)

I've heard the sound of silence loud and clear. It arises in the sounds of my house early in the morning before anyone awakens. I hear the hum of the central air conditioner or heating unit, I hear our cat move and meow, I hear a bird outside chirping, I hear the pen move across my paper. As I listen to the sounds of the early morning, they occur and fade away, occur and fade away, again and again. A slight humming is heard in the distance, a ringing from inside my head, a sound coming from my own 'inner ear', the internal sound of silence. Buddhists, I've learned, call this the nada sound, and often suggest it as an object of meditation, just like the breath may be used.

I didn't seek this sound of silence, it just arose in the quiet discovery of an early morning before my family wakes, before the noises of the day, before the cacophony of thought and life rush in to mask it.

I've noticed that this sound of silence never leaves, it just becomes undetected in the busy-ness of the day. Yesterday, a close friend of mind had a brain MRI scan. I held their hand through the process. The loud banging noise of the MRI scanner, which sounds like a harsh jackhammer on a construction site, coupled with the fear of potential illness creates an experience that is incredibly distressing. Yet as we waited in stillness through scans of varying duration - 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5, minutes, 6 minutes long, I found the sound of silence present. In the midst of the incessant banging of the scanner, a steady hum seemed to hold us calmly in place.

That sound of silence held an infinite source of love that transcended my life and my friend's life. It is a sound that reflects the ever-present connection of love across space and time. Perhaps if we each attend to the sound of silence, anchor to it more often, we might know the extent to which we all share it.

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