“Silence is a source of great strength.” ~Lao Tzu
It’s really hard to find silence. I thought it would be easy, but apparently I’m an idiot. I mean, silence is simply the absence of sound. Any fool can pick out a quiet place and connect with this source of great strength Lao Tzu is referring to, right? Not quite.
Noise seems to surround me at all times. Noise comes from my constantly-running information sources – radio, television, internet, social media – which I can barely pull myself away from. Noise springs from my mechanical appliances – buzzing refrigerator, humming air conditioner, clicking ceiling fan – which are necessary for my comfortable way of life. Noise arises from the human community around me – car speeding by, airplane soaring overhead, lawn mower motor, children playing in the distance – which I could only avoid by moving away to some lonely location far from any other people.
Even if I could get away from all these sources of noise and find myself in an environment of external silence, I’d still have my own internal chatter to deal with. My mind is constantly running: I’m always talking to myself, usually about inconsequential nothings. Every day is like being stuck on a sixteen hour flight sitting next to some moron who won’t stop talking to me about golf and wiener dogs and Norwegian cuisine and all kinds of other crap that I don’t care about, and the captain turned on the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign so I can’t walk away, there’s nowhere to go, and he just keeps talking, and I just want to yell “Shut up, you word-slut!” right in his face, but I can’t because that would only make the rest of the trip incredibly uncomfortable for both of us.
It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to be seeking something as simple as silence and to discover just how elusive it is. My frustration built as I realized that I would have nothing to write about Lao Tzu’s quote. How could I write about the strength found in silence if I couldn’t even quiet my own stupid mind? My frustration with myself flamed into anger and soon boiled over into a burning hot rage. I directed this rage outward, overcome with the overwhelming desire to destroy something.
My bookshelf caught my attention. All those books, filled with the words of authors who knew what to say about their subjects, really pissed me off: they would feel my wrath! I went berserker on those books like the Incredible Hulk, only slightly less green and much less muscular. I drop-kicked The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I tore the cover off The Odyssey and ripped through the binder of Walden. I sent Jonathan Livingston Seagull flying across the room. I tore out the pages of Tao Te Ching and ate them.
When my destructive fury subsided a few minutes later I collapsed in the middle of the room, a shattered soul amongst the broken pieces of my modest library. I was exhausted. I was empty of emotion and my thoughts had abandoned me. I had nothing left. I was . . . silent!
I don’t know how long I sat there in peaceful silence. Maybe it was a few minutes, maybe an hour. Time was insignificant. Suddenly a rogue thought popped into my mind – I knew what to write about! Twenty minutes later I’m putting the final touches on this article about silence – silence, which truly is a source of great strength. Finding it is the hard part.