Silence is golden but it can also be elusive

Source: The National

By Justin Thomas is a professor of psychology at Zayed University

On a five-day silent retreat in Liwa, there were only the sand dunes for company. Aside from one daily call to the organiser, I was not to converse with anyone. Instead, I had an hour-by-hour schedule that included long walks in the desert, meditation – and lots and lots of silence. On the edge of the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter, Liwa is quiet at the best of times. In August, it was as if the world had pressed pause. The explorer Wilfred Thesiger once described the region as “very still, with the silence which we have driven from our world”. Fellow traveller and author Gertrude Bell similarly wrote of the silence in Rub Al Khali resembling “an impenetrable veil”.

I thought I would be climbing the walls with boredom but I was surprised how quickly I adapted to the silence. I would spend hours gazing across the undulating ocean of sand stretching off into the horizon, communing only with my own thoughts. Without Netflix or distractions, spending so much time alone with my own thoughts helped me understand myself a little better. I also found myself having lots of creative ideas and sleeping better.

There is nothing new in this, of course. For millennia men and women have sought silence to get closer to God, and peace. Alongside fasting, praying and charity, Ramadan is also a time when some Muslims undertake a spiritual practice called itikaf. It involves isolating oneself in a mosque or at home, away from earthly distractions, and devoting oneself to worship and reading the Quran for the last 10 days of the holy month. Nor is this a singularly Islamic practice.


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