I always liked this dialogue from the movie Pulp Fiction (slightly adapted for language):
“Don’t you hate that?”
“Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about nonsense? In order to be comfortable?”
“I don’t know. That’s a good question.”
“That’s when you know you found somebody really special, when you can just shut […] up for a minute. Comfortably share silence.”
Indeed, why do we always have to say something? Or for the same reason why do we have to listen to something all the time: radio in the car, TV at home, iPod when working out and we can go on and on. Put three people in an elevator for a couple of minutes and you will immediately see the beginning of a conversation. Weather, local sport teams, the financial crisis and other general subjects flourish in any communal moving vehicle. No one wants to just travel in silence and everybody feels the need to say something, or at least to smile, nod, interact in some way with the others. One thing is clear everyone hates uncomfortable silence.
The term itself however is paradoxical: why would silence be uncomfortable? After all silence is associated with peace, tranquility which is the opposite of annoying.
The answer might be that there is something we are afraid to be alone with. Archmandrite Meletios, from the Monastery of St. John in California, says it is our thoughts. Our mind generates an uninterrupted stream of thoughts, or logoismoi, as the Greek Fathers call them. This stream of thoughts, originating in the primordial separation between our mind and our heart (nous), is what drives us nuts when there is silence around. Suddenly we have to deal with all our inner turmoil, all our frustration, all our depression, all our deep seated feelings that are masked by focusing our attention on something else. Conversation and any other surrogates of sort are like a Band-Aid on an eviscerating wound.
The problem of inner thoughts is a very important one because the thoughts are the root of all we do. No sin is done without passing through the mind that gives the command. Stop the command and you will stop sin. In our minds we are at war, an unseen warfare, as people like to call it, in which our path in life as persons is defined.
The mind is so affected by these unstoppable thoughts that it becomes unbearable at times; this is where the discomfort in silence comes from. The only way to stop it is to do what St. Theophanes the Recluse says: “Get out of the head and into the heart.” The heart or the nous (I’ll use these two terms interchangeably) is the only part of us that is not affected by the logoismoi because is the part that could establish the contact with God and God does not have to be explained in words, He just Is. The goal becomes then to sink our mind into our heart and embrace the peace that comes from the presence of God in our heart. Until we completely surrender our mind to God we will continue to be bothered by thoughts.
Talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, St. Isaac the Syrian said that the language of the future is silence. This may seem odd for many that cannot imagine eternal Communion with God as being silent, without words. We imagine that at the End we will be able to ask and find answers to all our questions and God will preach explaining everything we want to know. I doubt that this will be the case because in the presence of God there are no more questions and answers, no noise, distractions or entertainment, just love that flows and fills everything. The very presence of God is enough to fulfill any need or question we might have. He, the Logos, the Word incarnate is the answer. He was, is and will always be the answer to all our questions. We just have to shut-up and listen.