IN SEARCH OF SILENCE
“You never find a place that is total silence,” Mr. Kagge said. “I’ve been looking, and I have not found it.” Erling Kagge is a 54-year-old Norwegian explorer, author and publisher. The closest he came was trekking to the South Pole, which he reached in early 1993. He was alone in frozen isolation for 50 nights and days. Given a radio to make emergency calls, he’d tossed the batteries on Day 1. “When you start, you have all the noise in your head,” Mr. Kagge said, but by the end “you feel your brain is wider than the sky. You’re a guy being part of this bigness, this greatness. To be alone and experience the silence feels very safe, very meaningful.”
His new book “Silence in the Age of Noise” is an appreciation of what he calls “the new luxury.” Indeed, from silent meditation retreats to noise-canceling earphones, in recent years silence has been heralded as an increasingly precious commodity, the most sought-after luxury after a good night’s sleep. Artists, musicians and thrill-seeking journalists are checking into anechoic chambers, or soundproof rooms, where it’s so quiet that you go batty from hearing yourself breathe. However, much of the modern-day “noise” that people wish to escape does not actually come from loud sounds, but from endless distractions, especially for a young generation that has their smart phones essentially attached to their bodies. “There’s always something happening, always temptations,” Mr. Kagge said. People constantly seek instant gratification and social approval, which leads to a gentrification of society, where “everyone is the other, and no one is himself,” as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said.
“Silence is not a trend,” Kagge said. “Silence is something people have needed for thousands of years.” What is silence? Where is it? And, why is it more important now than ever? Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy. We are captured by our smartphone and enslaved to our tablet. People rummage around a world that has little to do with them. We browse through Instagram, watch Snapchat stories and read the Facebook feed, with the sole purpose to be “busy”, but not necessarily productive and effective. We are giving up our own freedom to use new technology and turn from being free people to becoming resources, Heidegger says. A resource for organisations such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Snapchat and governments, which are trying to map our actions and to use or sell the information.
The question that Humpty Dumpty poses to Alice remains: “Which is to be master – that’s all.” You, or someone you don’t know? “I’m not recommending people move into a monastery,” Kigge said. “We’re social beings. But in the silence, you meet yourself.” Humans are social creatures and being accessible can be a good thing. We are unable to function alone, but it is important to be able to turn off your phone, sit down, not say anything, shut your eyes, breathe deeply and attempt to think about something other than what you are normally thinking about.
“It’s easy to think silence is about turning your back on the world,” Kigge added, however for him “it is the opposite. It’s opening up to the world, respecting more and loving life.” Silence can be anywhere at any time. It is about creating it for yourself, whether you walk up the stairs, prepare food or focus on your breathing. Sure, we are all part of the same world, but the potential wealth of being an island for yourself is an important escape and something you carry around with you all the time.