March 20, 2016

BHOWMICK | The Rest Is Silence

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The flipside of being aware and constantly thinking, questioning and critically analyzing everything we come across is the sheer anxiety it translates into. As someone who has struggled with a mind that does not believe in quietude, I have been thinking deeply of silence of late. Silence is powerful. Yes, it makes us uncomfortable but embracing silence makes a world of a difference. This is especially relevant in our microcosm on the Hill. Personally, I have been trying to deal with my battle with silence. It is hard especially at Cornell when we are constantly worrying about something or the other. I am devoting this column to the power of silence because it is perhaps the most important takeaway for me in my final semester at Cornell. As someone who is inherently garrulous, it does not come easily to me. But, in several situations over the past few months, I have grasped the significance of silence.

It is most tedious to silence my mind before going to bed. On nights when I am able to ignore the deluge of thoughts that get unlocked as soon as the lights go out, silence has been therapeutic. It has been soothing. It has been like a homecoming where you close your eyes and know everything is bound to fall into place one way or the other.

This semester, I am facilitating a dialogue on gender as part of the Intergroup Dialogue Project. There has been a lot of emphasis on facilitating silence and allowing it to fill the room. Silence, in this context, has been a form of communication. When emotions run high and triggering situations emerge, silence gives you the time and space you need to absorb the experience. Silence allows you to respect. Silence makes feelings palpable.

When you are spending time with someone you deeply care about, silence is comfort and an expression of love. Being able to sit and let each other’s presence be enough is a meaningful elucidation in itself.

During the times I have learned to silence my mind, I have become a better listener. I am always one to raise my hand in class. These days I write down in my notebook “Don’t speak for the next twenty minutes,” and it has influenced my ability to learn. When I consciously focus on silencing my mind, I listen not only to the words spoken by others but the stories hidden behind the words. I pay attention to language, intonation, personalities and experiences.

Silence can be a form of quiet revolution. When words don’t suffice and only leave you feeling frustrated, silence is a marvel. The mental ability to be silent is a privilege, one that I have only started acknowledging now.

The silence that tied the Cornell community together on the Arts Quad when we were honoring President Elizabeth Garrett’s memory this past week was poignant, compassionate and stirring. With all of the emphasis on speaking out that has been such a defining aspect of my life for the past 22 years, I had either not noticed or forgotten the importance of silence. When a powerful speech is delivered, the efficacy lies in the silence that follows the final words spoken. Silence marks the anticipation before one says “I do” at a wedding. Silence is a treasure in a world where entire cities are dealing with drones, explosion and violence day after day, for years and decades. Silence can be peace — both comfortable and uncomfortable. Silence is transformative and profound. If we think about it, silence holds our lives together. Silence is humility, unspoken understanding and in so many ways, life changing. My dialogue about silence has only begun and it is a challenging one, but at the end of the day, when the night silently descends, it is rewarding.

Aditi Bhowmick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester. She may be reached at ab738@cornell.edu.

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