In a world increasingly dominated by chatter and frenzied movement, silence and stillness have become rare luxuries. That space of pause which is so necessary for renewal is one of the most underrated features in our lives – like sleep. It is only in still waters that you can see the clarity of reflection as well as the truth of what lies beneath. Still waters run deep. The greatest creative insight emerges out of quiet stillness. All religions preach this, in one form or another.
Many religions suggest that stillness and emptiness are the qualities that underlie all existence. Apophatic language—demonstrating what something is like by describing what it is not—is a common practice in religious and theological writings. Because we cannot know God directly, we cannot use direct language to accurately think about or understand God. In silence and observation, we can see God in the world around us.
One of the goals of religious practice is the attainment of internal peace. Prophets, saints and sages have spent long stretches in mountains and forests, away from the civilized world, in silence. With silence emerges laser-sharp clarity. Just as those who are constantly speaking are never listening, we cannot listen to our deeper voice if the surface chatter doesn’t stop.
The impact of music is not only because of the sounds, but also because of the silence interspersed between sounds: without the balance of sound and silence, there would be no music as we know it. This can be seen as a metaphor for life: we crave excitement and the highs of life, but without the more mundane moments of life, these exciting moments would not seem as special.
“I have often repented of speech but hardly ever of silence.”
— C.S. Lewis, writer and Christian theologian
“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”
—Hebrew Bible (Proverbs 21:23), Jewish text
“Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should speak a good word or remain silent.”
—The Prophet Muhammad
“For restraint in speech, he shall observe silence; for control over the body, he shall fast; for control over the mind, breath control (pranayama) is prescribed.”
—Sannyasa Upanishad, Hindu text
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything.”
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher
“All the wonders of life are already here. They’re calling you. If you can listen to them, you will be able to stop running. What you need, what we all need, is silence. Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.”
—Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist monk
“Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate.”
—‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader