The soul of silence

I'm not naturally the silent type. My school report cards often had comments like 'talks too much in class' or 'disturbs the other children with her chatting'.

I'm the one in the house who turns up the music and loves the sound of kids screaming happily as they chase each other around the garden. I often jump in too quickly when there's a pause in the conversation. To be honest, I can get a little ratty when it gets too quiet.

But lately the endless din in my den has been getting to me. The noise on a typical afternoon in my house sounds like this:
a shrieking three-year-old clip-clopping in my high heels on the wooden floor; my son bouncing his ball against the kitchen wall; demented robots at war on BBC Prime; beginners practising recorder, piano and flute; and Avril Lavigne at a volume too high for a slightly stressed parent.

And all of this is the background to the usual cacophony of buzzing doorbells, ringing phones, a piercing printer, the neighbour's alarm and endless questions.

Even in the black of night I'm sure I can subconsciously hear white noise from the household appliances, not to mention the snoring dogs and barking husband... or is it the other way around? And then there are the noises in my head as I make lists of things to buy, fetch, say, write and remember.

A couple of weeks ago, when my girlfriends and I did our weekly walk in the mountains, I suggested we try it more quietly. After years of enthusiastic yakking on the slopes, we did half our walk in silence (we're not yet so enlightened that we could manage the whole thing without talking!).

During this peaceful time, I experienced a state of clarity and bliss and reconnected with something spiritual inside me; it was almost like meditation on the move.

Now, every week when we walk, we do our bit of talking therapy but we eagerly await the river at the bottom of the slope, which is the dividing line between chattering and calm. And I've come to realise that silence isn't golden at all.

That's a far-too-flash description. Silence is more the colour of an amethyst a beautiful, soft, lilac light.

Someone who knows about the sacredness of silence is Sergio Milandri, a spiritual counsellor who facilitates silent retreats at a sanctuary near Stellenbosch.

'Silence is an avenue to inner awareness,' he explains. 'It's here that we find a deep, still space where we're most in touch with ourselves. Looking within strips away our false identity and forces us to face our true nature.'

People who pathologically talk too much are often masking insecurities subconsciously, they believe if they keep quiet they may be seen as vacant and unworthy. Sergio says we're becoming addicted to busyness and noise, as they keep us from our uncomfortable feelings.

Obviously, communication is vital and we don't have to go to the extremes of the Indian yogi who went 19 years without saying a thing, but it may be wise for chatterboxes to consider the yogi's advice: 'Before speaking, consider whether it's an improvement upon silence.'

Silence is one of the fundamental practices of many of the world's religions. In Buddhist meditation, one sits for long periods with the awareness on the breath, and silent prayer lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It's in this quiet space that we slow down, gather our thoughts and, if we're on a spiritual path, connect with a higher being.

They say a quiet heart hears everything, and if you stop and listen carefully to your heart's voice, you'll find the answers to your problems.

Silence doesn't have to happen with stillness and solitude. You don't have to attend a religious service, sit in the lotus position staring at a candle or lie quietly beside a stream.

You can experience an internal silence in a noisy and crowded shack, on a marathon run with thousands of others or even while listening to loud music. Everyone has a different route into this still space.

We all come from a silent place; we had a noisy start; we have a talkative time in-between; and it's only death that shuts us up. But let's not wait until then to really experience this profound and peaceful state.

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