Tim Parks in Aeon:
Silence, then, is always relative. Our experience of it is more interesting than the acoustic effect itself. And the most interesting kind of silence is that of a mind free of words, free of thoughts, free of language, a mental silence —
…The process is neither that of a single switch being turned, nor of a steady continuum, but of a series of small gains and losses; perhaps a larger step forward, then a small relapse. If one is persistent, undaunted, in one’s attempts to concentrate, if one is successful in showing neither aversion to pain nor indulgence in pleasure, then, very slowly, the stillness and silence deepen in an atmosphere of beatitude that is simultaneously and indivisibly both physical and mental. It is as if, as the body is slowly put together and all its component parts unite in an intense present, so the historical self is taken apart and falls away. At no point is it experienced as a loss, but rather as a fullness of existence; something brimful, very ordinary and very beautiful. The words we constantly use and the narratives we write reinforce a drama of selfhood that we in the West complacently celebrate. There is also much consolation taken in the way in which writing and narrative can transform emotional pain into a form of entertainment, wise and poignant in its vision of our passage through the world, intense and thrilled by its own intensity. Narrative is so often the narrative of misery and of the passage through misery. What silence and meditation leaves us wondering, after we stand up, unexpectedly refreshed and well-disposed after an hour of stillness and silence, is whether there isn’t something deeply perverse in this culture of ours, even in its greatest achievements in narrative and art. So much of what we read, even when it is great entertainment, is deeply unhelpful.