night in the desert
I have known what it means to be "quiet"many times throughout my life, but it wasn't until I moved out into the desert that I knew what it meant to be "silent."
Over the years I have lived in many quiet neighborhoods. I have sat in quiet churches. I have visited quiet mountain retreat sights. Yet, there was always some background noise in all those quiet places and moments - a door slamming, a horn sounding, a dog barking in the distance, a car rumbling.
In the desert, the silence is astoundingly different- especially at nighttime. There are no background noises - no peripheral sounds. I can sit outside under the nighttime sky and it's beyond quiet. It is totally "silent" and the silence is so profound as to border on being frightening because it seems so uncontrollable. In the silence I sometimes feel like I am being drawn out of my "self" and pulled into an energy that is greater than me. It's frightening, but also quite wonderful.
Yesterday, I was reading an essay about desert silence that really resonated with me:
The desert has a silence like no other.
Do you hear a ringing in your ear?
It is the bell of existence.
I think this observation was so poignant for me because this is exactly what happens to me in the time of the most profound desert silence. Paradoxically, silence has a sound- a deafening sound, a thunderous sound. In the times of the greatest silence, when there are no other sounds, I can hear a buzzing, a ringing sound like no other sound I have ever heard before. I think indeed that I may be hearing the "bell of existence."
When I first moved out to the desert and heard that ringing sound of silence, I thought maybe I was having a "hearing problem," and so I consulted my doctor who examined me and told me that most people hear some sort of ringing, buzzing sound when they sit in total silence. He told me that doctors have various explanations for this phenomenon - many think that in profound silence we hear something of the sound of life in our own body--our heart beating, our blood flowing, our brain activity.
I recently read an article about the beginning of creation- the singular moment of the "Big Bang" when the universe first manifested and began to expand. Many scientists believe that a deep rich bass sound was emitted in that Big Bang moment- a sound that in some sense continues to radiate in waves even to this day throughout the expanding universe.
So maybe that is exactly what I hear in the sounds of the profound silence. I am hearing the sound of creation- the bell of existence. Maybe what I am hearing in the paradox of the thunderous silence is the "voice of God."
If nothing else, the desert is a place in which I have learned the meaning of paradox - less is more, in emptiness there is fullness, in absence there is presence, in total silence there is a deafening noise.
Recently I attended a church service. Now, I have attended church services all my life, but this time I found it to be a most frenetic time - a time so busily filled with words and sounds, ritual and gesture, prayers and music, creeds and sermons that there wasn't one shred of silence to be found.
When I came home from church that day, I realized how much my desert life has taught me and changed me. I long for wilderness trails and desert nights that I might embrace the paradox of silence- present to nothingness, listening to the bell of existence, the voice of "God."
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