When we were children and started becoming overly excited or noisy, our aunt would say “OK time for Shantini Ramat!”(the game of silence). All we had to do was to close our eyes and stay still and silent. This was not in the form of a “fingers on lips” punishment, but rather always had the most calming effect. Even as young children it made us aware of the many sounds that even silence was made up of, and sensitized us to the power of Quiet.
Many years later, as environmental educators, one of the exercises we often did in our workshops, with teachers or children, was to ask everyone to close their eyes and sit silently for just 5 minutes. After that we would ask them what sounds they heard / how they felt. It was interesting to note that they found this hard to describe or pinpoint. They were so unused to distinguishing individual sounds—even if they were obvious and strident like the honking of horns, the rumble traffic, the hum of the fan; or less obvious like the chirping of birds or squirrels.
We all live in a continual clutter of noise. Most often our ears are so tuned out of the subtle sounds around us, we can hear only the loudest, glaringly harshest and strident noises. We no longer know what silence sounds like. In fact we are almost afraid of the Quiet. Yet there is much to hear in silence. Even amidst the clamour of urban life, there are sounds that we can hear if we really listen—the early morning call of the lone bird, the rustling of leaves in the breeze, the buzz of the bee, the plop plop of the first raindrops and the steady gush of a downpour.
There is magic in silence, in being quiet. There is great power, beauty and creativity in silence.
This is beautifully captured in The Book of Quiet, a wonderfully sensitive children’s book by Deborah Underwood. Each page, lovingly illustrated by Renata Liwska, is dedicated to a different Quiet moment, beginning with “first one awake Quiet” and ending with “sound asleep Quiet.”
ALL KINDS OF QUIETITUDES
Best friends don’t need to talk Quiet (Comfortable)
Trying not to hiccup Quiet (Embarrassed)
Last one to get picked from school Quiet (Nervous)
Sleeping sister Quiet (Tender)
First look at new hairstyle Quiet (Shocked)
“Silence is itself the stuff of substance; the moments it fills are not the in-betweenery of life but life itself — rich and nuanced and irrepressibly, if quietly, alive.” (Maria Popova)