“Who do we become in the silence? Where does silence happen? Who else is ‘in there’?
What is silence to sound… and why does that matter?” (aka Musings of a musician)
Sound and Song
These days I recognize it as home, the silence. Does that sound like an unexpected thing to hear from a musician? For many years, singing and songwriting have been my heart-vehicles for facilitating some kind of personal journey into connection and healing. Originally, I wrote songs to explore – and heal – my own stories. And it helped. I found I could understand myself, my feelings and my choices and needs so much better when done through a creative setting and a guitar. I wasn’t trained to be a singer/songwriter – I simply found my way there after someone lent me a guitar. At the time, I was at art school and had run out of space to paint – the walls were burgeoning with large art pieces – so taking up the guitar and writing somehow made sense to me at the time!
Even though I had written my songs from personal need, a journey to narrate and track my own experiences, eventually I performed my songs in public and was rather surprised that people liked them. I recall often hearing ‘they don’t exactly follow normal song-forms, do they? Couldn’t you add some more drums?’ and wondering how that was relevant – perhaps a reflection on my lack of awareness of the formulaic context of song-writing, as it was all still very personal to me – I wasn’t trying to fit into something known or anticipated – less ‘crafting’ and more ‘unearthing’. In time, it became fun and deeply satisfying to combine my musical energy, and ethos, with other peoples’ and play and write together – it brought things alive in a very different way that later informed my understanding of ’emergence’ and collaboration.
Sound and Silence
Over time, I began to transition from being an exploratory singer/songwriter – revealing and discovering the stories of my soul – into a being in search of a different kind of presence – an unconditioned belonging, not based on anything emotional or mental, not based on any personal stories, or pain, as such. I started to experiment with sound creation, using my voice and then my companion Shruti as a medium for inviting in some kind of delicate, raw, and honest interaction. It was a very creative time in my life, and I was able to use the Sanctuary of Grace North Church, Berkeley, CA, (and nowadays Grace Cathedral, SF) as a location for this exploration and also for performance. I grew within my sense of self and gained confidence about the path of exploration that either I had chosen or I had responded to – some kind of inner/outer invitation to coalesce and collaborate esoterically.
Who do we become in the silence after sound?
Who do I become in the silence after sound, and why do I/we want and need to go there? What is different about that silence than the silence that existed prior to a specific and focused sounding experience? These are big questions for sure. As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed I’ve become more intrigued by what happens at the end of a period of singing or talking, what happens within me and in others, as well as to the collective possibilities in the space. Silence has become more visceral, more tangible… it has more value than it used to – I can feel it in my body; it has qualities – I like it. This experience is perhaps uniquely accessible when you have taken the time to journey there. I started to enter from sound into the silence until the silence itself became the goal, the arrival point in my sound healing sessions… as if the sound were simply preparing some kind of sonic architecture for the spirit of my soul to rest in the heart of the silence that came afterward, a Buberesque space capable of restoring and regenerating the immanence of the ‘I-Thou’ dynamic.
But what of silence – what role does silence have in how we can experience ourselves in our awareness? And where exactly are we experiencing it? Where is this so-called ‘space’??
Well, have you heard of numinous space? It’s actually *defined as a space that has a deity or divinity presiding over it, a spiritual place, a magical place. It’s not a quality entirely ascribed to a physical location (i.e. it’s not stuck there) but more that the physicality of a location can become a place where the magical can be generated, discovered, or invited into our immediate experience. I’d say it means that our ‘higher essence’ can know its own divinity. When I sing, I experience something much more satisfying than my mind, in fact my sense of having a mind at all quite disappears and my experience of being in presence comes to the fore – if there were dials on a mixing board some dials, the ‘I need’ dials, would reduce and the ‘I am/we are’ dials would go up. I know when I’m there because I feel free, engaged, connected and ‘beyond’ the confines of anything mundane or worrying. I feel happy and complete… and somehow ‘know things’ that have no basis in the rational. It’s like a horse growing wings – galloping was fun but flying even more so.
Where is silence?
It seems to me that is waiting everywhere we can think to look for it! We can also find it by accident – in the heart of ourselves and in the heart of the universe! It’s a mind/body thing. It’s nature’s balancing-counter to the noise that life generates – the before to the after, and the moment after what just came before. When our minds are busy our bodies are aggravated and that makes everything in our minds and interiors act ‘loud’. It is hard to hear anything helpful in that case. When our minds are quiet (still) our bodies can slip into the vastness of the soul, get comfortable and be still also. That center of stillness is generating something but it is not moving in order to do so; it is inside of us, the inside that is part of the reservoir of life that doesn’t have to go anywhere in order to be everywhere, co-creating and generating whatever is going to happen next.
Who else is in there?
Interesting, right? Is this a solo experience or a communal one? Do all the people in a room hearing the sounds go to the same place within the sounds and the silence? Do all people who meditate go to the same place when they are in their ‘still center’? That might be impossible to answer. What may be happening is that each person finds something of value for themselves, something relevant to them, a loci of awareness that will have meaning for them. So, in a way, whilst we can visit there, I’d propose that other beingness might actually live there – perhaps waiting for us to come and join it in the mutuality of contemplation. Contemplation in silence is a little less ‘wordy’ – it doesn’t ask questions, nor does it hold on to knowing things intellectually. What if it is simply consciousness itself?
Why do sound and silence matter?
Sound comes from the body – it is an emotional, cathartic, expression – it can also be a mental one, but it is visceral by stint of its own mechanics. I’d say that sound matters because it is honest, it is human, it is healthy and inclusive when done without self-consciousness – even if it is done with self-consciousness that is still an intimate expression of life, is it not? But why does silence matter? Perhaps because in the silence is a certain kind of humility, a listening, a feeling-listening. It’s where we can become small enough (away from our hubris) to feel we safely belong and do not need to ‘know’ anything, or control everything. It is a chance, a place, to rest. When we let the silence engulf us, we become one with consciousness, we become restful of mind, we simply become. Human beings are not human doings, becoming is part of being – so whether we are sounding, singing, saying or sitting in a naturally emerging silence, we can choose to have the experience of presence that somehow seems to make everything better, even if just for a moment. I find this happens easily in places of undisturbed nature.
Silent outside, still inside, relaxing into the occupied emptiness
As an artist my whole journey has been about belonging, asking the questions ‘where do I belong?’ and ‘what is belonging?’ I have noticed that whilst being on a three month creative sabbatical in Scotland, a lot of my time has been spent moving around; walking on mountains, moors, heaths, islands, lochs, beaches and cliff edges – often dangerously blown about by the elements. I’ve constantly been in other people’s territories with much of this time spent outside and in contemplation. A lot of it has also been spent alone. Sometimes it’s been quite hard to feel the isolation creeping in. Isolation can be a hugely claustrophobic ‘place’ to hang out, but it has given me something precious; I am not as afraid of life or death, not as afraid of solitude and not-knowing – and not as afraid of silence. In fact, I have learned to recognize that isolation is an invitation to come home – the place I can go for answers, respite, and restoration. There is something ‘in there’ that speaks to my heart and my deeper sense of connection to all that is – it is quietly comforting and I can somehow ‘hand something over’ when I go there and also receive. I find it to be a very honest place.
Silence is less the absence of sound and more the presence of stillness
Becoming present is perhaps the most tangible and appreciative response to being alive that I feel we can undertake as humans. I asked earlier why it matters to know our place in the relationship between sound and silence. In case it helps, I’ll say why for me: these are journeys, these are our journeys into presence. Presence matters. We live in, on, and through a planet existing in multitudes of relationships that require us to experience ourselves as deeply as possible in order to become fully alive, fully human, and capable of giving our best in this one precious life. Even if you believe in reincarnation, this life you are living is a unique expression of right now; a constellation of uncountable coincidences. Don’t waste it on being less than fully engaged with your own ability to be present to it, as much as possible.
To that end, I encourage you to sing, speak, sound, say, and even snarl! Experiment with being still and in silence, and being in motion and in silence… make sounds and movements that surprise you – be ‘out loud’ until you suddenly run off the cliff edge and glide upward into the silence, a bird aloft on the wind that knows itself. See where it carries you as you experiment, see what happens in your own personal universe when you say yes to something subtle and real that might feel risky and dangerous at first but can restore a sense of self that only you are qualified to find, in resonance with all that is – devoid of mind or judgment, yet appreciative of connection and belonging. We belong in our diversity, our awkwardness, our awareness and in our ‘jumping off and diving in’ – and, of course, we will each find our own way to the experience of profoundly validating connection we will recognize for ourselves when we get there.
Thank you for reading. And here is a little meditative music for you to take you into sound and into your own inner silence.
Bio: Clare Hedin is a multi-disciplinary artist of many years, a performer, a social healer and the developer of Dynamic Emergence. She resides in UK and San Francisco/Bay Area teaching, performing, recording and demonstrating how the arts help us to become more connected to ourselves, each other and our home; Planet Earth. [More]