The Power in Silence
A plaque quoting Psalm 46 hangs in my office, “Be Still, and Know That I Am.” It hangs directly in front of my desk as a reminder that I believe in being quiet; in being still. I believe in the power found in silence; the power of re-creation and self reflection, the power of creativity and examination, the power of prayer and of healing. This tangible reminder is needed because my conviction is constantly under siege and obstacles exist between me and my belief. We are not a still people. We are not a quiet society. Valued commodities are cell phones and earphones, not silence.
As a physician I meet with the consequences of what we have become. Patient after patient, frazzled and harried, present to me this or that physical complaint, or requests help with his sleeping problem, or wonders why she is not enjoying things she once enjoyed. “Could you please check my thyroid?” “Do you have a medicine that will help?” Half-way through the visit their cell phone will ring, or their Blackberry will squawk. Perhaps they will check their watch, indicating, “I only have two minutes for you to fix this, doc.” We are a busy people, a loud people, and we surround ourselves with noise, haste, and urgency. We have done so at the expense of silence and solace. I believe that through disciplined silence many ailments will resolve; many problems can be solved. A careful balance between silence and words, distance and closeness, solitude and engagement forms the basis of a healthy, spiritual life and should be the subject of our most personal attention.
In our drive to be increasingly productive, we allow intrusions in our lives that inhibit our innate need to think reflectively, to be creative, and to be re-energized. The hours before the day begins are my favorite. I can think with no interference, or go for a run before any cars are driving the streets. My heart leaps when I see my two young daughters, who often awaken as I do before the sun comes up, sitting quietly on the couch reading, or drawing, or sometimes doing nothing at all. They get it. They understand the value of being still, the power of silence.
I recall one cold, crisp morning during my time in the military. We were a few days from launching “Shock and Awe” against Baghdad. As medical director for my deployed unit, I was living without reliable electricity, heat, or running water. I received daily briefings on the terror that would befall from Iraq’s chemical and biologic weapons. Then one morning I managed to steal two hours to watch the sun rise over an ancient land; quietly, alone, without narration or music or noise. The chaos that would ensue two days hence stood in disturbing contrast to the power of those precious hours.
This I believe: only through the power of silence can we delineate the urgent from the important.
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