Most of the time we only talk about what happens, what is being said, what makes noise and demands our attention. Rarely we pay attention to what happens in between, when nothing happens. When everything is silent. When the only thing you can hear is the whispering of the wind or the creaking of the trees. When you walk next to each other, not speaking a word and it feels just right. In these moments, silence is all encompassing. Without these moments of quietude – would we even appreciate the moments of noise and action.
Whenever I watch a movie with friends, one of the most precious moments are the few minutes after the credits. When everyone is quiet, still immersed in the story of the movie, waking up only slowly. Or this moment in theatre, when the lights turn off. Suddenly all the chattering and talking fades out. Everyone is silent in anticipation of the rising curtains. And parting from your friends after the show, you are greeted by the calm silence of the night. Giving you a moment of rest between the exhilaration of theatre and the just arriving bus home.
In japanese philosophy, there is the concept of negative space – MA.
The idea is that material things, objects are not only valuable by themselves but also because of the space that surrounds them. In a beautifully decorated room our perception of beauty is not only based on the objects we see but also on the space between them. How the objects relate to each other. If they are all cramped in one corner, the room appears chaotic and we can‘t appreciate the individual objects. Empty space gives structure to the room.
In analogy, silence is empty space between sounds. Without the silence between the notes of a piece of music, it would not be recognisable as music and would drown in a constant white noise. If we want to give emphasise to a word, we pause before saying it. The silence in music and in theatre seem to be different from the spontaneous silence of a walk in the forest. In theatre and music, silence has the clear function of contrasting the sound of the song or the play. The silence of a walk is more spontaneous and is less consciously perceived. But it, as well, creates contrasts and moments of silence in the hectic hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Silence and empty space structure our lifes and yet we try our best to banish them. TV in the background, endless chattering and talking to not be forced to be quiet. Constant entertainment, to avoid being alone with your own thoughts. But in that way we often lose our connection with a conscious intense experience of life. We can‘t focus enough anymore to hear the separate notes of life. Instead we only hear the constant noise of consumerism. Only seldom we give ourselves fully to silence and to the space it opens fo us to experience the world more intensly and clearly.
The same principle can be applied to another concept: boredom. Boredom is usually seen as something negative, something to avoid at all cost. But it can fulfill a very similar role to that of silence and empty space. Boredom is the empty space between actions. The silence between the loud and hectic moments in life. Boredom gives us space to process our experiences. It let‘s the mind wander until a real inspiration arises about what to do with our time. Unless we distract ourselves with other things and don‘t leave space for the inspiration to come. Inspiration is something that comes from within, that pushes us to do thing that really satisfy us. Distraction on the other hand is usually just killing time, Superficial fulfillment of our needs without real satisfaction. That is why we often get our best ideas under the shower or while sleeping. Those are after all often the only moments without distraction.
Silence, empty space and boredom are just facettes of the same thing. It is about taking a break in everyday life, perceiving the inbetween spaces in life. The silence between words, the emptiness between things and the boredom between actions. Maybe it is a good idea to take a break every now and the, Just ignore the haste of modernity. Take time. Time to hear the silence and see the emptiness. Time to experience boredom, just you and your head to find yourself again.