“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre
once listened to an interview with a Japanese conductor about his experiences with European orchestras. After a very interesting discussion, the conductor pointed out one integral difference between European and Japanese orchestras that intrigued me:
With a smile in his voice he said that, in Europe, most musicians don’t play the silence.
- In one orchestra, when a particular segment has been played, the instruments are lowered and the musicians’ muscles slightly relax, as they await their next performance; eyes continuously darting across music sheets, while they listen to the other instruments playing.
- In the other, the bow stays on the violin, even though there is no sound. The lips of the clarinet player are still touched to the mouthpiece. The cello player stands with tense arms apart, swaying, as he continues to follow the notes in his head that are not his to play.
Even when no sound can be heard, they stand and interact with each other as if they were actively playing a song that only they can hear; masterfully honing the active sound of silence.
On a philosophical note, just as in the first example, we often forget to play the silence in our lives. Instead, we scramble to find something –anything—to fill it.
As we prepare dinner, we look for a background sound. When a task becomes too hard, we have an almost instant kneejerk response that has us turn to something trivial and easy. Whenever we are caught with a moment of stillness, we look for a book to read, a series to watch, a person to talk to, a technological device to distract us – because we resist the silence. (Am I the only one who starts reading the ingredients list on products on the toilet?)
We resist being alone – with ourselves.
“Silence-Schminenz, what lousy and woo-woo ‘advice’” you might be thinking now, and I know that I have read similar advice, over and over again, thinking: Yeah, yeah I KNOW!
Without ever actually acting upon it.
We do this because we are looking for the answer we want to hear, not the one we need. An answer that will fit the level of discomfort we are willing to undergo in order to have what we want.
And if you are anything like me, you know the level is not particularly high.
“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
Nevertheless, after years of reading the same advice – rolling my eyes and ignoring it – I have started bringing little moments of active silence and awareness into my life. Moments in which I remember those “simple and woo-woo” words and truly enjoy trying them out.
By going on a walk without music or a destination in mind. By chopping the potatoes without rushing to ‘click’ on the next episode of my series. By relaxing into the couch and enjoying the sensation of cosyness as my partner leaves the room, before hasting to open up that wonderbox of distraction I call my mobile phone.
More and more, I am filled with the desire to slow down and notice where I am and what I am doing; to do only one thing at a time while truly experiencing it.
I want to stay still long enough to actually know how and who I am. What am I thinking and feeling right now? Like a bad date, I often forget to ask.
The next time you get caught without a distraction, don’t go looking for one. Enjoy it. Play the silence.
Stand the discomfort of being alone in a room – with yourself.
And see what happens.