So far my favorite chapter in Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence is « Silent Places » in which she talks about her experience walking for days in a forest – about the secrets of a forest and its complex silences. I grew up exploring the old growth forests of western Oregon, and her descriptions of the Caledonian Forest in Scotland made me wonderfully homesick for the densely growing pines, the lakes and waterfalls, the ancient moss-covered lava flows of this unique area of the United States. All forests are unique—thankfully so—and Maitland has reminded me of the joys of discovering a particular forest’s visual and auditory texture, and thinking how those two spaces interact and oppose.
At the end of the chapter she reflects on the “varieties” of silence, and I love this bit especially:
Beyond the purely auditory experience there is an even greater range; there are emotionally different silences and intellectually different silences, too. I have come to believe that while sound may be predominantly a brain phenomenon, silence is a mind event. The experience of silence is more tightly bound up with culture, cultural expectation and, oddly enough, with language than the experience of sound is. Chosen silence can be creative and generate self-knowledge, integration and profound joy; being silenced (a silence chosen by someone else and forced upon one) can drive people mad. It is possible to experience external silence without any sense of interior silence and in a few cases the reverse. Catherine of Siena, the Italian mystic, was famously able to maintain a conscious awareness of her own interior silence while pursuing an eloquent and complex ambassadorial role about the politics of the papacy. Silence is multifaceted, a densely woven fabric of many different strands and threads.