Silentium est aureum – often translated as silence is golden, or perhaps more aptly as silence is gold; is a phrase laden with ancient wisdom in a world severely in need of timeless assistance. Gold is that which is eternally valuable, eternally sought after, so how strange is it today that silence, the finest manifestation of golden treasure, is neglected and disregarded. Or is it the case that man, despite his huge technological advancements, is the poorest he has ever been?
The poverty of man can arguably be attributed to the poverty of language. Words that denote subtly different meanings are often used interchangeably; words are used inappropriately, too frequently, or defined too simply in a manner that fails to convey their complete meaning. In this regard, the term silence has fallen victim to this poverty. It is often defined as merely the lack of noise, which though accurate, fails to convey a deeper sense of the word. Silence, when attributed to inanimate surroundings, perhaps only denotes the lack of noise, but when attributed to a man can be said to represent a finer meaning. The silence of the philosopher or the mystic, in ancient literature has never been used to indicate his mere abstinence from speech, but a metaphysical state of being beyond that which his external quietude is representing.
The state of silence represents a profound awareness of one’s reality; a deep connection with the now and a state beyond one’s frantic worries. Often, what is termed as silence is not silence in its true essence. Though we may not be speaking, we are blighted with incessant thoughts and perpetual worries; we live our future hopes repeatedly and our past regrets painfully. The noise in our mind is greater than any noise we can physically produce.
The state of silence is deeply linked with our immediate presence. The more present we are – away from thoughts that distract us – the more silent we are. When we truly marvel at the beauty of a flower, we are not attacked by thoughts telling us it is beautiful. Its very beauty speaks to us, rendering such thoughts unnecessary. The more we tell ourselves it is beautiful, the less we truly appreciate such beauty. In the modern day world we are not merely afflicted by thoughts informing us of something’s beauty, we feel a narcissistic need to share such ‘appreciation’ of beauty with others. Thus we share the noise of our minds with the noisy approval of others, and the poor flower is lost amongst all the commotion.
The state of silence is also integral in the quest for truth. A seeker of knowledge must be capable of silence. We must be able to read others, listen to others and understand others without the intrusion of our noisy thoughts and objections. How often it is the case that in discussion, we are listening to the response in our mind, pre-prepared, rather than to what the other is writing or saying. The noisy soul is perpetually scared of listening to others. The owner of a frail house cannot sleep for fear of it crumbling. Likewise, he who is incapable of listening is always in fear. He cannot bear to think that his ideas and thoughts, ones he is so familiar with, can be replaced with new unknown ideas. He is unwilling to even introduce himself. So like the aforementioned owner, he closes his door lest the arrival of guests leads to the collapse of his house.
In a world of noise and hustle and with everyone frantically chasing what will inevitably perish, our appreciation for silence has significantly diminished. Silence is a sought after treasure only when one wishes to sleep, so that his efforts for another day of endless running are not undermined. Silence is an unwanted companion in other times, lingering awkwardly, everyone willing it to depart.
On the rare occasions we are silent, everyone inevitably assumes there must be something wrong. Even our silence is not silent, with the endless barrage of questions and concerned looks.
The reality is that it is often only in silence that we can truly think, that we can truly reflect and that we can truly be alive. This is why the best moments in our lives often leave us speechless, for nothing captures the splendor and wonder of our best times like silence. Silence reflects the serenity of the soul; one at peace with God, his people and surroundings. Silence is the trait of the humble, those who comprehend their frailties and limits, their ignorance and weakness, their death and life. In silence, the signs of God are made manifest on this earth.
قالَ رَبِّ اجعَل لي آيَةً ۚ قالَ آيَتُكَ أَلّا تُكَلِّمَ النّاسَ ثَلاثَ لَيالٍ سَوِيًّا”
فَخَرَجَ عَلىٰ قَومِهِ مِنَ المِحرابِ فَأَوحىٰ إِلَيهِم أَن سَبِّحوا بُكرَةً وَعَشِيًّا
“He said, ‘My Lord! Appoint a sign for me.’ He said, ‘Your sign is that you will not speak to the people for three complete nights.’ So he emerged before his people from the Temple, and signaled to them that they should glorify [Allah] morning and evening.” (19:10-11)
Written by Ali Jabbar