Smartphonelessness ~ A Tribute to Silence in a Turbulent World

By Leni Cellini

The Wonder of Smartphones
I have to admit: it can be extremely convenient. All those apps. Being able to read your emails anywhere. Never getting lost again thanks to the built-in GPS. Having your entire music collection with you at any time. High quality camera included. And I’m probably still forgetting a few things.

And yet: I do not have a smartphone, and for the moment, I do not really want one. It seems to me that in this digital evolution, something precious is getting lost. By spending so much time staring at a screen, we miss out on a lot. You’ve probably also witnessed the following scene: teenagers sitting sit together on a bus, but everyone is watching their own phone. Or a couple at a restaurant looking at their screens rather than at each other. Or even worse: your own date who seems to feel the urge to go online every few minutes. The horror!

Of course, this does not only affect our relationships, it has a huge impact on ourselves as well. The constant stream of information makes us feel restless during the day (and even at night, if you tend to go online when you can’t fall asleep). It becomes increasingly difficult to get through ‘empty’ moments. We can longer be bored. We can no longer do nothing. We are no longer comfortable waiting. Every moment has to be filled with input. Music, Facebook, emails, WhatsApp – you name it.

I would like to propose the exact opposite of this communication overload. The endless stream of bleeps and ringtones. My experience is that just in doing nothing, in the absence of that continuous input, something new arises. Unnoticed. Discrete. By stopping and being still, your inner wisdom can start to surface. Clarity and insight appear. And you can be more present for others.

The Wonder of Silence
Now, allow me to pay tribute to silence. This is not an easy thing to do, though. You cannot really capture it in words. Something essential always seems to escape. That is also what Bieke Vandekerckhove acknowledges in her marvellous book The Taste of Silence – How I Came to Be at Home With Myself. She writes that it is hard to explain what silence exactly does. Yet, it unmistakably does something. Something wholesome, valuable, healing.

I can agree with her words wholeheartedly. Surrendering completely to silence from time to time has completely changed my life. Perhaps not so much on the outside, but within. I feel truly grateful to all teachers who taught me to tolerate and appreciate silence, like Thich Nhat Hanh, Frank de Waele, and Tara Brach. The way they continue to teach me to come home to myself through silence, is infinitely precious.

The recent documentary In Pursuit of Silence also emphasises the importance of silence. For nearly one hour and a half, the film shows how noise damages our health and how beneficial silence can be. Even though they can be awkward, our human nervous system seems to crave moments of silence. Not merely in the sense of fewer decibels, but also less visual stimuli and more moderation in general. A doctor in Japan even demonstrates that spending time in nature can prevent and help heal all kinds of illnesses, such as heart disease. Very impressive, since we are usually not even aware of the fact that the constant noise and clutter can harm our health.

The Art of Being
I have to admit: chances are that within a few years, or perhaps earlier, I will purchase a smartphone after all. A camera, MP3 player and telephone in one. Wondrous! Still, I hope I will never forget to make space for a different kind of ‘free time’: daring to do absolutely nothing. Not answering emails, searching for information, or sharing selfies. Allowing my body and mind to stop for a while. To pause. Without input. Without output. Just Being (with a capital letter). And I hope that many of us won’t forget the art of Being either.

This article was originally published in Dutch on Leni’s blog Living Loving Learning.

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