Posted in Essay, Music, Spiritual Practice

Pondering – on silence

the work of Liliana Negoi

389px-Faras_Saint_Anne_(detail)I was reading about John Cage today and his famous piece, 4’33”. As you may know, that is a composition conceived in 1952, meant for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer(s) to not play the instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece, which is meant to consist of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as “four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence”.

The reason why I was reading that is less important, the irony was that there was an awful amount of noise around me while I was plunging into Cage’s reasons to write a piece about silence. Now, precisely at the time when I was sort of praying for a miracle that would stop all that noise, my eyes fell on the fragment quoted below:

“In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. Such a chamber is also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, ‘I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.’ Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. ‘Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.’ The realisation as he saw it of the impossibility of silence led to the composition of 4′33″.”

And lo! While I was reading that, the huge noise around me stopped, and I was able to hear the music of my neurons, chewing on the relative silence suddenly fallen upon my surroundings . Quite a poetic coincidence, if I may add.
But coming back to the point, what people grew to call as “silence” is merely the absence of sounds. An absence otherwise relative, as demonstrated by the quote above – for our own body always plays its own music, above the absolute state of silence. Sometimes we like it, sometimes we don’t, simply because silence, like all things, is sometimes necessary, and other times it should be replaced by something else. There can be silence in the middle of the storm, as well as it can lack in the middle of some anechoic chamber. What matters most is not the physical silence that we experience, but the mental one, when the mind comes to that state of silence called peace – because that is when we actually “hear” our soul.

– Liliana Negoi

© 2013, essay, portrait below, and book cover art, Liliana Negoi, All rights reserved
Illustration ~ St. Anne by an anonymous painter in Faras, which was a major city in Lower Nugia between what is now Egypt and the Sudan. It is housed in the National Museum in Warsaw and the photograph of it is released into the U.S. Public Domain.

IMG_7667the hidden well front coverLILIANA NEGOI (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) began to write poetry at eighteen – by accident – as she herself likes to remember, and has been exploring the depths of language ever since. Currently she is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English – which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footstep on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well.  The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE.  Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.


The focus of "The BeZine," a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines, is on sacred space (common ground) as it is expressed through the arts. Our work covers a range of topics: spirituality, life, death, personal experience, culture, current events, history, art, and photography and film. We share work here that is representative of universal human values however differently they might be expressed in our varied religions and cultures. We feel that our art and our Internet-facilitated social connection offer a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters, and not as “other.” This is a space where we hope you’ll delight in learning how much you have in common with “other” peoples. We hope that your visits here will help you to love (respect) not fear. For more see our Info/Mission Statement Page.

9 thoughts on “Pondering – on silence

  1. Liliana, now I have read this for the third time and still enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your fine work and delivering it in pristine condition. An honor to have you here.


  2. I’m one of those who is overly sensitive to noise and, ironically, just as I began to read this, someone rev’ed up a lawn mower and our dogs started barking. One thing I miss no longer living a monastic-like life is the gift of silence. Thank you for a lovely reminder, Liliana.


  3. I imagine a longing for silence, since an arachnoid cyst in my head gives me constant tinnitus . Then I visited Mammoth Cave and heard the interpreter mention that those left behind in the cave can fear the silence even more than the utter darkness. How friendly your own soul would be in that situation!


  4. I just found out how many left their wonderful thoughts and words as comments to this text of mine – and I feel humbled :). Thank you, all of you – who commented, or liked, or learned something, or simply read this!


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