View of the desert sky, this one in the American Southwest

I am having an ongoing attraction to the concept of silence, of what happens when you choose to move into the spaces that exist without language, without the need to speak. I’ve written about this here on and off for months, and the attraction isn’t abating. Not yet anyway.

I was taken by this passage from Sara Maitland’s A Book Silence which I found on Quotes and Musings, a great spot for finding an unexpected mix of wisdom and insight.

Maitland shares her experience of a particular kind of silence from her time in the Sinai:

Later in the night I began to hear John Cage’s ‘sound of silence’ in a new way. It was not my nervous system or my circulation; it was not the last murmurs of almost silenced chatter, nor the shifty movements of the tectonic plates. I thought I heard the singing of the spheres. The classical and early Christian world believed that the heavenly bodies sang as they spun through their orbits; each had its – own unique and perfect note that reverberated in perfect harmony with the others. With a geocentric universe there were eight such spheres — the sun, the moon and the six visible planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto cannot be seen with the naked eye, so they were not known until there were telescopes); this created the perfect eight- note scale. The singing was silent and could only be sensed or imagined at moments of heightened and joyful awareness. The sound of silence, in that desert night, was the song of jouissance, of bliss.

In the desert I realised that there is something hideous, especially to a contemporary Western sensibility, about a systematic and determined attempt to break down, or thin out the boundaries of the self and become open to, participate in, the undefined, illimitable freedom of the divine. It is also very hard work. One of the Zen monks at Throstlehole remarked to me once, ‘It is strange, everyone says they want to meet a saint, but no one actually wants to be one. It’s too tiring even to think of it.’ The experience of both East and West is that silence is the ground for this work. Whether or not silence is also the goal of the task is a slightly different question.

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