is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
I miss silence. I miss it. Manila, for all it is to me, unfortunately lacks that one thing in a place that I consider beautiful and that is silence. (Manila also lacks order, but that is another article). Everywhere one is hounded by noise. Natural or unnatural. Good sounds and bad. Noise that is heard and noise that is seen (Buy Now! A must see! Kasama ako sa pagbabago!!!). I miss silence.
What is it with the Filipino and his aversion to silence? One cannot go anywhere in this city without being besieged by sound. Every café must have jazz music playing in the background, hotel lobbies have their classical sounds, elevators have their... well, elevator music. And malls just play anything as loudly as possible. And the jeepneys and tricycles! Work in an office and it’s an everyday battle with the secretaries to please tone down their radios.
Is there something about silence that people hate? Admittedly, as anybody who actually experienced true silence knows, it’s not something to be trifled with. I’m not talking here of the silence of spas, what with dripping water and soothing guitar music. I am talking of that true silence knowing that no messages will be received from cellphones, without wifi’s to chat with or receive e-mails from, no cable, and no iPod.
Experience true silence for the first time and one encounters a huge amount of noise. This time, all in your head. One’s fears, insecurities, hatreds, desires all come arguing and screaming. One imagines oneself beating enemies to complete submission, replaying scenes of humiliation, and constructing imaginary scenes of glory. With true silence, one eventually gets to see oneself as one is. One is unable to lie with silence. With silence, one knows oneself.
But perhaps that’s why a lot of people here abhor silence. Because without the external noises, nothing is left to the mind but bare truths. Anxieties, obsessions, and lusts are all exposed so personally by silence’s unmitigated relentless glare. However, the most terrifying thing about silence, true silence, is its ability to expose emptiness. That after all the new cellphones, fancy job titles, new car bought from the company car loan, restaurant hopping with friends, one is brought to the fact that perhaps one is, in the end, empty, nothing.
But to fear silence is a mistake. Silence, as Henri Nouwen once pointed out, acts like a furnace, which melts away the impurities and non-essentials of who we are. Because silence acts like the hit of cold water, a shock to the system that then becomes soothing, refreshing, healthy. Silence disciplines us to introspection, leading us to what is truly important, providing us clarity in our thought, and -- in the end -- clarity within ourselves.
One need not go to the mountains or a monastery to attain silence. Go to a chapel, shut the door of your bedroom, or simply sit still in your cubicle, and turn off all that is in technology that shouts out noise. Or just simply, stop talking.
People nowadays talk too much. They use 20 words when one would do. The blabber of words comes in torrents, stream of consciousness-like that makes me disconcerted at what actually lies in their subconscious. Either because of the call center culture pervading or Oprah’s let’s-share-all mentality, people talk nonstop in bars, coffeeshops, elevators, everywhere. Words now have seemingly no substance, distorting even those virtues previously understood as honesty, discretion, and commitment.
Coming from a lawyer and law lecturer, to stop talking may seem like a strange suggestion, but, frankly, talking is becoming the least favorite activity of mine. It’s not for avoiding mistakes that I dislike talking (although that is a fringe benefit), but the simple act of conversing leaves me with an ill-feeling, a bad taste in the mouth, a feeling of tiredness. It’s perhaps in my life I’ve come to the realization that what is worth doing is better done than talked about and those not worth doing are not worth discussing anyway.
Unfortunately for my students (and my family), I cannot exactly shut up every minute of the day. I don’t recommend, obviously, that you start acting like mute monks. Relating to people is part of our lives. But I do recommend that you spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day devoted to silence (and its partner -- solitude).
Although silence does bring discipline to your mind (and your being), nevertheless, it also requires a certain amount of discipline to regularly keep that silence on a daily basis. So pick a certain time of the day most amenable to your schedule, call it an appointment with yourself. Talk to yourself, to your journal, to God. Stick to it daily. Shut everything off and just listen to what’s inside of you.
What with all the insanity going around us nowadays, silence is a blessing.