I heard a speaker suggesting that for the period of Lent all the people in his audience should try spending 5 minutes a day in silence. I was struck that it was presented as such a huge challenge, to be silent if only for 5 minutes per day.
It got me thinking. Silence may be rare for many people in our time in the West. What a curious age this is. Silence can be filled by switching on a radio, TV, putting earphones in that brings into our heads anything the internet can offer. We can pick up a telephone and talk to someone, or we can be near to a person and listen to them.
In our time silence is a challenge, even five minutes a day of it, but not in the days when people walked.
Imagine a world where almost everyone walked everywhere. Sometimes the walking would be in the company of others but often in would be alone. No earphones, just the silence of ones own company. Three miles an hour, in a state of inner quiet, as sights and sounds are processed.
It is our age that is out of step with human history. For thousands of years, what we consider unusual, was the normal. I wonder how many hours per week, on average, people, before our modern age, would have spent in the silence of walking. I wonder what tranquillity we have lost, as a society, simply by not walking.
I could feel smug and remember that I run regularly, that I don’t use earphones but enjoy the silence and solitude. But if I am honest with myself I will have to admit that even that is a smaller proportion of my life than would have been the norm at one time.
Perhaps the challenge within the suggestion of the 5 minutes a day is the realisation that fitting it in to a busy day is simply not easy. Silence seems to have become a precious commodity that many can no longer afford.
And the value of silence? I suppose it depends upon what we hear within it.