Sounds and Silence

Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.
~Hafiz

What are those sounds in your life?

Wind in the trees outside your window?
The voice of a beloved child?
The song of the sea?
James Brown’s shout on “I Feel Good?”
The call of the first bird at dawn?
The roar of a NASCAR race?
A Mozart piano sonata played by Glenn Gould?

Your life most certainly has a soundtrack.
Sometimes the sounds there are not of your choosing – traffic, airplanes, noisy colleagues, Muzak, or arguing children.
The rest of the menu is up to you.

Many of us fill every waking minute with music, television, or radio.  This inundation with constant sound can dull the sensitivity of our listening.  We tune out after awhile and go numb to what’s happening around us.  The rare gift of silence can offer a much-needed refuge and oasis.

I’ve had two recent encounters with the kind of silence that is much greater than the mere absence of sound.  Allow me to tell you about them.

I just returned from a weekend retreat with a group of 60 authors affiliated with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler.  The conversations were rich and sophisticated.  We explored the diverse ways we were all contributing – or hoping to contribute – to the repair of the world.  There were people in that room whose thinking I have admired for years.  Wise elders.  Young visionaries.  Brilliant world-changers.  Witty, friendly, and engaging human beings were all around me.

And yet I kept finding myself pulled away from the conversations to sit in the resonant silence of the redwoods.  In the presence of those ancient trees, I can almost hear a subsonic hum.  A deep thrum that’s just below my hearing range.  I don’t know what the trees were “saying,” but I drew great sustenance from them nonetheless.

About a month ago, I was greeting the dawn from an island I frequently visit in the waters between Minnesota and Ontario.  As the watermelon sky brightened to peach, there were a few precious minutes of utter silence: no boat motors, train whistles, plane engines, human voices, or even bird calls.  On a large lake like that – especially on a weekend morning – that absence of sound is a rare occurrence.  The lake’s silence had a completely distinct flavor from that of the redwoods.  Each silence has its own distinct music.

Tasting the gift of silence refreshes the ears and heart for deeper listening.
Enjoy seeking out the sounds – and the silences – that make you glad you are alive.

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About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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3 Responses to Sounds and Silence

  1. Beautiful! What an important sentiment. And so well said. Thank you, Barbara! As i sit in a noisy din, it’s a gift to be reminded– no, encouraged!– to find the lovely space of silence.

  2. Barbara in Robbinsdale says:

    I am staying this week at my mother’s senior residence as we prepare to move her from here to Minneapolis. The sounds are different from home: trains in the wee hours, a vacuum in the hallway outside our room, my mother asking “what was that you said?”

    At home the first sounds I hear are the cardinals outside our window, and I am now tuned into bird song all day long – the small hawk up on the telephone pole. I enjoy hearing my neighbors talking with my husband – we have such good neighbors now it’s a joy. I’m sure I’ll think of others now that you’ve asked the question, Barbara. Thanks!

  3. Rena Lindgren says:

    Thank you for your writing on this subject Barbara. I still fear and long for silence. Eventually there will be an agreement of being with the silence that will bring peace and vitality.

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