The Sound Of Silence Is Never Silent

“There is no such thing as empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we can not.” John Cage, from his book, Silence: Lectures & Writings

Silence. Much has been said about it, but little of it has really been understood. John Cage knew, and he took advantage of it, using it as a compositional tool. In fact, his most talked about composition, 4'33", is all about silence—or rather, the lack of silence (for further insight on Cage and 4'33", read Kyle Gann's wonderful book, No Such Thing As Silence). For those working with Gongs/Bowls/Bells in a meditative or therapeutic setting, I think it's important to realize that there is no silence. Try as we might, outside sounds always creep into our silent sessions.

Silence is an illusion…

Here are a few examples: one place I regularly do sessions is located next to some railroad tracks. There is almost always a train or 2 passing by during a session. Another place is located on a busy main street, so the rumble of trucks going by often fills the studio. Another place has a very creaky ceiling, and most older places have very creaky wooden floors. 

At first, these sounds used to distract me. “How can I present this quiet session with all these noises going on?” But I learned to live with them, to go with them, and in doing so, they became a part of my practice. They belonged. Rather than trying to ignore them or wish them away, I welcomed them. This is the world, the real world. As Cage told us so many years ago, “try as we may to make a silence, we can not.”

The interesting thing is, that when I accepted the sounds, so did everyone else. “This truck came by, but it didn't bother me.” And life goes on, full of sounds that echo through our silence.

~ MB

Chop Wood | Carry Water | Play Gongs


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