The cultivation of mindfulness requires periods of focused attention. Many proponents of mindfulness maintain that this is best developed through seated, silent meditation. So, in exploring how to focus the attention, we must first consider our relationship with silence.
Whether in the center of a city or deep in a forest, the cacophony of sounds around us makes it apparent that true silence is impossible. Composer John Cage wrote music that included long periods of silence. When the musicians stopped playing, concertgoers were quickly confronted with the shuffling, shifting, and coughing sounds in the concert hall. So what is silence? I like to think of it as the absence of intentional sound. Intentional sounds are the things we turn on such as TVs and phones, the words spoken or heard in a conversation we are engaged in, music we make such as humming or tapping, and the noise of tools, keyboards, or other objects we are interacting with. Sounds that remain are unavoidable. So silence is when we are purposefully quiet. For many of us, this can be unsettling.