Saturday, 21 August 2010

Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.
Henry David Thoreau

The first widely observed national moment of silence occurred in Britain in 1919, in commemoration of the nation’s inaugural Armistice Day. For two minutes, switchboard operators declined to connect telephone calls, subway cars and factory wheels ground to a halt, and ordinary citizens held their tongues. Within 10 years, the somber annual tradition had grown so popular that the BBC began to air the sound of the silence. One broadcaster mused that the communal silence served as a “solvent which destroys personalities and gives us leave to be great and universal.”

While state-sanctioned silence was novel, the sentiment of the broadcaster was not. Silence has long acted as a leveler of ego. From the communal meditation that opens Quaker meetings to the lulling quiet that defines the lives of Buddhist monks, silence is central to various religious traditions. “For many people, silence is the way God speaks to us, and when we ourselves are in silence, we are speaking the language of the soul,” observes George Prochnik. In his fascinating new book, In Pursuit of Silence, Prochnik sets out to understand the complicated reasons for silence’s power.

Silence enriches the mental life of humans, but, as Prochnik shows, it ensures the very survival of some in the animal kingdom. By being silent, animals avoid detection by predators, and sharpen their wits. Prochnik highlights the intriguing case of the red-eyed tree frog, whose embryos are capable of distinguishing the vibrations of a raindrop from the movement of a hungry snake. When the vibrations are caused by a snake, the embryos prematurely launch themselves from their jellied clutch and attempt to survive in their underdeveloped state.
by Megan Buskey -The Wisdom Quarterly

I loved reading this paragraph as it confirms my experience, that the repetition of the silence inducing postures of Tai Chi also sharpens our wits to our internal and external environments.

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