In seventh grade I played the Artful Dodger in my junior high’s production of Oliver! It was a joyful experience for me.
One evening, we were rehearsing in the band room, and I saw a poster on the wall: “Music is as much about silence as it is about sound.”
This simple statement impacted me deeply at the time and continues to inspire me decades later. It is a direct invitation to discover the often hidden or taken-for-granted aspects of the dynamic play between the vibrancy of sound and the open spaciousness of the silence in which it resonates. We can then explore rhythm, beat, and harmony, the vast play of creative expression, from a new and fresh point of view.
This exploration can also be applied to our relationships in community: how we speak, sing, and are silent with each other both in our Buddhist sangha and in the wider world.
Engaging with sangha members could be likened to jamming with other singers and musicians. We are all learning together how to read music, play scales, and ultimately improvise as we seek to benefit ourselves and all beings with our body, speech, and mind.
We can always gain a fresh perspective by remembering and appreciating silence amid what can often feel like a cacophony of noise. Silence is omnipresent behind and between the notes and voices. If we relax and listen deeply, we can tune into the gaps, pauses, and spaces that pervade our experience.
We can also explore visually, looking at the spaces inside and between letters, words, and paragraphs, including on the screen you are reading right now. The sounds and meanings of the letters and words are conveyed through the black script, but they could not be read or interpreted if it weren’t for the white background of the page they are written on (or vice versa, if you’re a “dark mode” viewer).
This aesthetic inquiry is especially poignant in the art form of calligraphy, where the play between form and space can become a profound experience of mindfulness and awareness. How do the shape and flow of the syllables affect our interpretation of the meaning?
With mindfulness, we can examine more deeply both the style and the content of words, whether spoken or written. Ultimately, we can investigate the mental intentionality that drives our speech, and the primordial awareness that is the unity of form and space, sound and silence.
In community, and within ourselves, it is important to remember and appreciate our capacity for both silence and sound. Finding a balance that allows us to authentically express ourselves while also allowing and fostering space and silence for others to do the same is crucial to creating harmony.
- Listen to your favorite song.
- Instead of focusing on the lyrics or music, direct your attention to the pauses, gaps, and silences behind and between the notes.
- Recognize the silence within yourself, and relax.