“You know what’s the loudest noise in the world man? The loudest noise in the world is silence.”
So said Thelonius Monk.
How much time do you spend in silence each day?
Three minutes? Thirty? An hour? Not enough?
On average each of us encounters 52 noiseless minutes every day, according to a study published last week.
But that’s on average. The same survey also found that a third of us have less than a half hour’s silence a day – and one in six of us less than ten minutes.
‘That’s more like it,’ I thought to myself (silently) on reading about the study.
I don’t know exactly how much silence I encounter each day but I’d guess it’s around 30 minutes, usually late in the evening.
Even the time I spend alone – running in the morning or eating breakfast – is not silent. Traffic, the wind, background music, a boiling pan – there’s plenty of ambient sound around.
As the day passes this usually doesn’t bother me. With the exception of a construction drill or a ringing phone I don’t notice any ill effects.
But every couple of days my mind jerks me alert, demanding ten minutes of silent nothing. The next chance I get (which usually arrives hours later, at home that evening) I turn off my phone, laptop, sound system and just sit, embracing the quiet.
This silence principally fosters a sense of peace, a reason why it’s vital for practices like meditation.
But it’s not just the mind that benefits. Silence is good for your physical health. Absence of it (that is, the presence of noise) can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease and heart attacks.
It’s also important for your cognitive function, specifically ‘right brain’ activities. It fosters creativity by filtering away daily sound, leaving focus and perspective.
When one focuses on silence it can – in the right circumstances – shift from being a passive absence of sound to being a presence, an active un-noise. The value of silence lies in this presence; the deeper one drifts into it the stronger the pull is.
Perhaps this is why Monk, a metropolis musician who spent many nights on stage alongside blaring brass, described silence as the loudest noise in the world.
Until your neighbour’s car alarm sounds.