The Basic Phenomenon of Silence
Silence is a basic phenomenon. That is to say, it
is a primary, objective reality, which cannot be traced
back to anything else. It cannot be replaced by anything
else; it cannot be exchanged with anyting else. There is
nothing behind it to which it can be related except the
Silence is original and self-evident like the other basic
phenomena; like love and loyalty and death and life itself.
But it existed before all these and is in all of them. Silence
is the firstborn of the basic phenomena. It envelops the
other basic phenomena—love, loyalty, and death; and
there is more silence than speech in them, more of the
invisible than the visible. There is also more silence in
one person than can be used in a single human life. That
is why every human utterance is surrounded by a mystery.
The silence in a man stretches out beyond the single
human life. In this silence man is connected with past
and future generations.
The basic phenomena takes us, as it were, back to the
beginning of things; we have left behind us what Goethe
called "the merely derived phenomena" with which we
normally live. It is like death, for we are left on our own,
faced with a new beginning—and so we are afraid. "When
the basic phenomena are revealed to our senses we feel a
kind of shyness and even fear itself", Goethe said. In
silence, therefore, man stands confronted once again by
the original beginning of all things: everything can begin
again, everything can be re-created. In every moment of
time, man through silence can be with the origins of all
things. Allied with silence, man participated not only in
the original substance of silence but in the original sub-
stance of all things. Silence is the only basic phenomenon
that is always at man's disposal. No other basic phenome-
non is so present in every moment as silence.
Sexuality is the other basic phenomenon that is always
at man's disposal. Since the basic phenomenon of silence
has been destroyed today, man depends too much on the
basic phenomenon of sexuality, and he fails to notice that
sexuality loses all proportion and becomes false when it is
not safe and out of danger in its proper place among the
other basic phenomena, and is not kept in order.
Still like some old, forgotten animal from the beginning
of time, silence towers above all the puny world of noise;
but as a living animal, not an extinct species, it lies in
wait, and we can still see its broad back sinking ever
deeper among the briers and bushes of the world of noise.
It is as though this prehistoric creature were gradually
sinking into the depths of its own silence. And yet some-
times all the noise of the world today seems like the mere
buzzing of insects on the broad back of silence.