Spiritual Teacher, Therapist, and Best-Selling Author Thomas Moore Says Silence is a Secret to Living Easier in Our Noisy World
When is the last time you got really quiet—and reveled in that silence?
In our increasingly busy world, multi-tasking is the default—and silence and emptiness can feel like unrealistic concepts. We take calls or listen to podcasts as we walk. We pull out our phones and start scrolling when we find ourselves with a few found moments in our days. “The world we live in is not very empty—it’s full of words and activities,” Moore says. “I think we lack this capacity to let life happen, and to listen and really pay attention to what's going on. Instead, we want to leap right into activity, or we want to say something and be heard.”
In his new book, The Eloquence of Silence, Moore offers us a different way—one that helps us recognize the gifts in even the smallest windows of spaciousness. Through a collection of traditional stories and ideas that span many religions and cultures, Moore explores the value of silence and emptiness—and explains how embracing these concepts can not only simplify our lives, but also make them more meaningful. “This book goes against the spirit of the times in a way, but I think it's very needed,” says Moore.
The Sunday Paper sat down with Moore to talk about this new book and why he thinks it can help all of us rise above the noise to find a little more silence—and ultimately, more meaning—in every aspect of our lives.
A CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS MOORE
How can embracing silence and emptiness help us show up for ourselves—and for others in our lives—in new and deeper ways?
I'm a psychotherapist, so when I'm talking to people about things that really matter to them, it's very important for me to be able to just sit there and be with them—and not have my own agendas. I think that's one thing that prevents us from being our authentic selves is that we think we have to do something rather than be present. You don't need to do anything; you can just be present, and listen, and let people know that you are there and willing to be with them no matter what they're experiencing.
That kind of companionship is so effective. It's so useful. And we don't we don't see it much these days because everyone's trying so hard to do something.
What are some of the ways you’ve learned to make emptiness a part of your everyday?
A lot of people will say to me, “Would you please do this or do that?” And I'll frequently say, “No, I can't do that now.” It’s because I don't want to be too busy; I don't want to have to move too fast. If I move too fast in everything I do, and if I do it anxiously, it’s not good for my health or my sense of balance. I find that when I explain this, and then do things at my own pace, people are willing to give me some space.
You can also find emptiness in choosing not to say things. When you have the urge to say something, see what happens if you don't speak. It's amazing how useful it can be to not talk. If you’re in a conversation with someone, you might say to them, “You know, I’d like to think about what you just said. Can you give me a minute?”
Finding more moments of silence and emptiness in the everyday doesn't have to be extraordinary. In those moments where you're not doing something or saying anything, notice how it centers you and allows you to be present with what is happening rather than full of your own ideas of what you think ought to be done. That's a different way of being, but I think that we can all learn how to do that. It really allows things to slow down enough that we can be present for each other and ourselves.
Some may find silence and emptiness uncomfortable. The distractions we turn to—our phones, talking too much—help us avoid those uncomfortable feelings. What would you say about this?
Emptiness can be uncomfortable—but that doesn't mean you can't practice it.
I think when people actually get quiet, most come to realize that they’ve been plugging in words that aren't truly important. Once you realize there's an alternative and you give it a try, I think you’ll realize that it’s actually better—and that tends to support that kind of behavior and make it feel easier. Embracing emptiness and silence can feel like a change in personality, because so many of us are so used to filling emptiness with words and actions and distractions. This is a different direction. I'm not saying that it should be extreme—the goal isn’t to be silent or quiet all the time. But infusing some of that into our daily activity will make a big difference.
What is the difference between “emptiness” as many of us think of it and the concept of emptiness as you know it?
Most people think of emptiness as a negative thing. Someone might say, “My life is empty.” Or they might think of a glass half empty. In our culture, the way we talk about emptiness doesn't usually sound very good.
In fairness, there is a lot of that kind of emptiness in our life, because we're very busy doing things that don't matter. Stop for a minute ask yourself what makes you busy. Are you doing things that really matter?
If you want to fill your days with things that matter, that means you'll likely have to empty out some other things in your life to make room. That's the positive sense of the word emptiness. It’s intentional. It's choosing to make emptiness part of the art of your life, rather than the unconsciousness of your life.
Yes, emptiness is something you must choose to bring into your life. And that's really what I'm doing with this new book: I'm suggesting that you could intentionally and artfully shift your life to in a way so that you allow these moments of emptiness to deepen who you are and give more focus to your life.
What do you want readers to walk away with when they finish your book?
I want all of us to live lives that are meaningful, full, and rich. Where people can enjoy being with each other, communicate with each other, and care for each other. I think if we could practice emptiness, we could all be better at knowing what's important. Emptiness is a good teacher for that.
My hope is that people will read this book and be wiser about how to live their daily lives, make better choices, and really relate to others. I think if someone considers this book like a little handbook on how to live, they will get a lot of important lessons from it.
Thomas Moore is the author of The Eloquence of Silence and 24 other books about bringing soul to our personal lives and culture, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Care of the Soul. He has been a Catholic monk and university professor and is also a psychotherapist influenced mainly by C. G. Jung and James Hillman. His work brings together spirituality, mythology, depth psychology, and the arts, emphasizing the importance of images and imagination. For more information visit www.thomasmooresoul.com.
Question from the editor: What are some of the ways you might embrace more silence and emptiness in your life?