Laughter. Easy conversation. Little footsteps scampering about. Giggles and shouts. Kitchen drawers opening and closing. These were the sounds that came echoing into my room where I lay sick while the rest of my family enjoyed Easter together. A dew days before Easter, I was knocked down by the flu. It assaulted me with chills, headache, fever, congestion, tiredness, laryngitis, and coughing. It lay siege to my entire life. When the doctor put me on strict vocal rest, it sealed my condition as one of silence. But silence, I discovered, is not as quiet as it seems.
One of the days I spent sick was Easter Sunday. I listened for hours to sounds of levity and leisure coming from downstairs. I heard games being played and attentions being showered on my nieces and nephew. I heard the sounds of Easter dinner being prepared. I heard conversation and comments. None of these sounds was all that important by itself, but together it was a symphony. I realized that had I been well and joined my voice to the music, it would have been just another note in the stream of sounds. Whether I would have shared earth-shattering revelations or mere idle chatter, mine would have been just another voice. A unique and valuable voice, but no better or worse than any other. Every voice was important, no matter what it was saying.
During the many days I spent in silence, I mostly had my own thoughts to listen to rather than a holiday houseful, and I noticed that my thoughts were just as noisy as they were. My restless thoughts even had the audacity to parade around the mind of patient sick with the flu. Thoughts about my future, my desires, and my purpose came flooding in with obnoxious confidence knowing I was too sick to swat them away. Everything I had ever regretted wormed its way in to my mind daring me to look at it. I thought about the sea of desires that wash over my mind, bathing me in the countless things upon which my happiness seems to depend. In my helpless state, I could take no action to better my situation aside from blowing my nose or having a drink of water. While I was listening to these tangled thoughts as they boldly dared me to believe them, I realized that while I held no judgment for the Easter noises and considered them as music, I felt it my duty to shamefully judge the thoughts in my own mind even if they contradicted one another. How are other people's thoughts, voiced on an Easter afternoon deemed acceptable while my own are not?
Whether Easter sounds crowded my ears or the endless drone of my thoughts, I never really had silence. There was always a thought to respond to. There was always a sound to listen to. Real silence, cultivated through meditation, must be, I thought, a thoroughly alien experience. Our humanity is so steeped with stimulation from within and without that the removal of stimulation must feel utterly strange. I realized that like water in a brook, our minds are vessels of thoughts of every shape and kind, and it is only when we apply our judgment that the river of thoughts becomes an unbearable noise rather than the symphony it can be. We were made to be aware of the sounds that surround us, and so let them come. Let the thoughts sing to us. Let them flow in and out of our awareness. But remember, "I am not my thoughts" and they will become like musical notes making a brief appearance in the light of our consciousness.