08 February 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius:
After giving some thought to my last entry, for the last week I have practiced complete and total silence.
I perceive what you are thinking: You live alone, in a society which is currently without power, in the depths of Winter where you not likely to see people. How large of a challenge is this?
To be fair, you raise reasonable points. All is as you say. But that is also unconscious silence, the silence of just existing now in the world as it now. What I was seeking was active silence, the silence of choice, the silence of practice.
It does not greatly differ from the list above – except with the addition that one has to actively make the decision not to speak out loud at all. Easy enough for some, you might say. Not if you are like me and in the habit of talking to yourself out loud. Often.
And so, I have spent the last seven days actively trying to not say anything.
I did leave a note for young Xerxes on the window for the next time he stopped by, letting him know what was going on and why I would not be answering the door. Other than that, the risk of having anyone visit was very low.
It is easy to practice active silence for an hour, or two, or even five. It becomes more difficult when practiced over days. We unconsciously tend to try and fill the silence with ourselves if we cannot fill it with anything else.
It is odd, as you continue in silence, how much sound you notice – and how loud that sound becomes. The rabbits drinking from their bottles sound like a hail storm. The pop of the fire becomes like a gunshot. I would swear to you I even hear the slow hiss of the water in the coffee pot I keep on the wood stove to humidify the air.
Doing any activity in silence and trying to maintain the silence as much as possible is definitely a change, especially if one has created an atmosphere where noise is in the background. You remember it – the “headphone/ear-pod” culture, where anything which one did not want to get bored doing, one put on headphones or put in ear-pods. Somehow it made the activity less “boring” as one walked away to the oldies or lifted weights to throbbing head thrashing music. But what was the purpose? Take our mind off what we were doing? Make something more palatable? Or engage our mind while somehow we were engaging our body to do something different? It seems rather ridiculous now – if I have chosen to do something, why do I not focus on it body and mind, instead of letting my body wander off one direction and my mind the other?
That is not quite a choice anymore, of course – I have the potential of music from my electronic devices, which of course do not run themselves without power. At best they are a resource which will not even last my lifetime
But as I persevered in my silence, I found it to be a useful exercise.
By not speaking, one has a great deal more ability to follow the thoughts in one’s head. I was much more readily able to track my pack-trains of thought and could come to instantly recognize when they had suddenly taken a turn somewhere other than where I thought they were going. And going about one’s daily tasks of living in silence seems to give them an elegance all their own – in fact, the longer the exercise progressed, the more I worked to carefully see how much of the noise I created just by doing the daily activities of living I could reduce: in preparing meals, in cleaning up, in my exercises and practices, even in the simple act of being – how truly silent could I be.
The experiment is complete and I am back to more of normal existence - the rabbits, despite any self-changes I may have wrought, simply prefer to have someone speak to occasionally and there is value, given the circumstances, in communicating with people such as my young friend that stops by once a week. But it has left me with a lingering practice of being more silent whenever I have the opportunity and means.
It is odd, Lucilius, how much more wisdom we could attain if we were to speak less and be silent more.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca