My mother, who had five children and a very busy life, would sometimes shout, ‘I can’t hear myself think!’. Sometimes I feel so full up with the world – with its noise and tastes and busyness – that I can’t hear my own thoughts. So much noise!
When the COVID pandemic first hit and my city went into lockdown, I walked the streets of my neighbourhood each afternoon for my one-hour of permissible exercise. The streets were so quiet. I could hear birds. I could hear the air. I could hear myself think.
Many things about that period were really difficult. But the silence? That was bliss.
I’ve known the power of silence since I was in my early twenties. Trying to recover from a broken heart, I went out on a date with a lovely man who sat eating his pasta while I babbled for two hours about my ex-boyfriend. At the end of the dinner, clearly exhausted by my noise, my date handed me a piece of paper with a phone number scribbled on it. It was the number for a silent retreat centre.
I spent three weeks in silence and at the end of it, I was stronger, clearer – and much more creative.
Solitude and silence — those undervalued siblings — are crucial in the creation of a beautiful life. In The Call of Solitude, Ester Bucholz writes: “Solitude is an important route to creativity… forging a happy and worthwhile life — and navigating through that life fully and gracefully — is itself a creative act.” Erica Jong goes further, suggesting that talent is common, while “What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.” And stillness does require courage, though its rewards are bountiful, and beautiful.
With every book I write, I need to find my way to it in silence. If I can’t manage a week, I make silence part of my daily practice. Only then can I hear my own words tapdancing. This is the alchemy of silence.
With all the external noise, it can be so hard to know what our own internal voice might sound like. To know what we want to write, or how to write it. In silence, your voice and your vision will emerge.
Your invitation today is a simple one.
It is simply to walk into silence. If you’re able, spend the day in silence.
If you’re in a community where a full day’s silence isn’t possible – try for half a day, or a few hours. Hold off on conversations. Put your phone on sleep mode. Switch off the radio or Netflix. Just you and the sound of your own blood, and your heart.