Life is a symphony of sounds. Silence is its subtlest manifestation, which gives depth to each of them. Silence can be seen as a state as well as a practice. Silence can be achieved by depriving oneself of excessive sound stimuli. Silence can also be practiced by turning one's thoughts inwards, immersing oneself in the depths of the nature of one's own being. Silence thus provides relaxation for the senses, which deserve a break from sensation. They can then quietly process in 'sleep mode' the messages that have already been sent, integrating the experiences that have been gained. Silence, however, cannot just be seen as a break from noise, but a practice of turning inwards.

Silence has also become a luxury product. Gaining people's attention and silence has become a privilege to be sought more and more. To simply be heard by another person, or to press pause in a world that tries to capture our senses by way of quick, random assignments of tasks, imposing consumer needs on you and keeping you in a low culture of ‘small talk’, confirms that silence must be sought. It is not easy to find, it is not available off the shelf. Not only is its availability limited, but people's ability to listen and respect your silence is also in deficit. So should people be taught a culture of silence and listening in a world possessed by noise?

Silence past and present

Silence originally allowed people to sense impending danger, allowing them to concentrate on their surroundings. Today, the value of silence is not only related to the deprivation of sound. It also serves to press pause for information processing mechanisms. Silence also helps to remodel the notion of your own well-being by cutting you off from what you don't need. It thus directs your mind to a harbour, where you are allowed to 'not-think', or to slowly analyse a selective problem. This alchemy of silence is the most effective elixir for regenerating your cells, because it does the very „work” of arranging your priorities.

We live in a civilisation of noise. Increasingly, the term ‘civilisation of screaming’ is used to describe the degree of deformation of silence in the space around us. The mass culture that surrounds man, into which he is involuntarily immersed, directs numerous aggressive messages to consumers. Thus, on the one hand, as prof. Paul Gilbert, writer and psychologist, argues, we are driven by lusts and automatic, primal reactions, which he calls the ‘old brain’ of man. And on the other hand, we are characterised by an amazing new capacity for self-reflection, plasticity and creativity, concentrated in the ‘new brain’ area. How, in this configuration, is man supposed to develop the potential of the "new brain" when, on the one hand, he is struggling with overstimulation as a result of noise and, on the other, he is wrapped up in a culture of possession? In this structure, is it possible to make proper use of the evolutionarily achieved resources of one's creativity, if one remains cut off from oneself by subliminal exposure to acoustic information noise? Finally, how can modern man balance his primal instincts and noise overload, knowing, that he is also immersed daily in routines of a technological nature, which deepens his disconnection from his own evolutionary potentials?

Silence also has several different contexts. J. Szmyd distinguishes between mental, inner and physical silence. Each of these spheres has a decisive influence on the importance of the soundscape in human life. Each layer is equally necessary for deepening relationships with oneself and with other people. Is it possible to be liked without having the ability to listen? Is it possible to acquire knowledge without listening to mentors, teachers or ordinary people who are trying to teach us something? The ‘instant’ version of superficial listening is spreading nowadays and reflects the greatest social phenomenon - the inability to listen to oneself.

Sound selection

The world is encoded in sounds. To achieve silence, it is not necessary to separate oneself completely from sounds. The key aspect is to exclude only those, that are unnecessary, or to expand the resource with those that give a new quality. Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, describes silence as a state of noise pollution. In doing so, he points to the need to separate sounds that contribute to disharmony from those that support humans intelligently, like the sounds of nature. Many of these should not be eliminated, but incorporated into the daily routine, prioritising them. Raymond Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and educator, emphasised a similar need, noting the need to define a so-called ‘soundscape’ within which experts from various sciences would determine which sounds are worth replicating and which should be eliminated. Undoubtedly, such an approach amounts to a new approach to the subject of silence, which is no longer just a practice, but the hygiene of your mind.

It is worth citing an issue initiated by Pythagoras, who gave the standard for surrounding frequencies as 432 Hz, which he considered the most beneficial for human nature. However, the international standard has been set at 440 Hz as the universal sound frequency, which is often met with resistance. Many theories claim that the human body experiences stress at this musical pitch, whereas 432 Hz is the universal frequency of matter that naturally resonates with human cells. There is no conclusive scientific evidence for this, but many musicians, observing the reactions of listeners at concerts, come to a similar conclusion. Shouldn't silence management therefore become a priority for modern man, immersed in the chaos of sounds and their frequencies?

Ideas of silence management

Gordon Hempton became the originator of the idea of noise-free zones, certifying individual parks as spaces free from negative sounds. This is how he set up the so-called Quiet Parks International, which are safe zones of silence. This idea could be the start of a new treatment of silence, which is sometimes worth fighting for in order to guarantee it on a continuous and permanent basis.

An interesting perpsective on the theme of silence was the famous performance by Serbian artist Marina Abramović entitled ‘Artist Present’, which took place at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 in New York and lasted for 75 days. As part of this project, any person who came to the museum could sit opposite the artist in silence, looking into her eyes. The technique is called ‘eye gazing’, which involves discovering a unique bond, based on similarities and feelings with another human being. The experiences of the people who came were very varied, some cried, others smiled, there were also those who showed aggression. What made people react in this way? Exposure to an unprecedented scale of silence, which, appearing in the life of a person unprepared for it, can trigger unpredictable reactions in them. Marina Abramović herself used to say:

The artist must understand silence. The artist must create a space, so that silence can penetrate his work. Silence is like an island in the midst of a stormy ocean.

(Marina Abramović, A manifesto for the life of the artist)

A few years ago, I experienced a similar 'eye gazing' event while at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Toruń, Poland, where I spontaneously reproduced Marina's performance with another stranger on the floor of the installation, which had special stations prepared with muffling headphones and armchairs spaced at a frontal distance. The installation encouraged exhibition participants to practice silence and the feelings surrounding it on their own. Similar practices are a common ritual of shamanic circles, as an element of which is to recognise oneself in another person and thus to reflect one's own beauty in imperfection. When I experienced such practices as well, each time I was accompanied by the feeling of seeing the beauty in the other person. After such an ordinary practice, the essence of which is silence, the world seen through your eyes can suddenly simply become deeply coloured and understood.

There are also pseudo ideas of managing silence, such as ‘silent disco’. The assumption of such events is that the participants are entertained while wearing headphones on their ears. In this way, they do not disturb the silence, remaining neutral to their surroundings. But is exposure to loud music via headphones healthy for the auditory system and the human sensorium? Excessive and prolonged exposure to noise can lead to damage to the hearing system, the vagus as well as affecting attention deficits.

Managing silence in today's world, the ‘civilisation of screaming’, is not an easy task. A key and final point is to arrive at answers to the following questions, which will lead you to your personal reflection on the soundscape of your life.

  • What is my definition of silence - do I regard silence as an extravagance, a bore or a duty, or perhaps as a ‘luxury good’?
  • Do I perceive and mark the boundaries of my silence areas, or do I allow them to be crossed?
  • In which areas and situations are these boundaries crossed?
  • How often am I in silence? Is silence achievable for me, or do I have to strive for it?
  • Could I function without a technological routine (without checking my email or social media)?
  • Do I often feel the need to buy?
  • Am I able to listen to my interlocutors without being interrupted, ignored, urged or retrieved?


Abramović, M. 2019. A manifesto for the life of the artist. Znaki czasu.
Janiak, A., & Szkoła, D. W. 2006. orig. Komunikacyjna wartość ciszy (The communicative value of silence.). In I. Kamińska-Szamaj, T. Piekot. M. Zaśko-Zielińska (red.), orig. Oblicza komunikacji. Perspektywy badań nad tekstem, dyskursem i komunikacją (Faces of Communication. Perspectives on the study of text, discourse and communication), 199-208.
Calamassi, D., & Pomponi, G. P. 2019. Music tuned to 440 Hz versus 432 Hz and the health effects: a double-blind cross-over pilot study. Explore, 15(4), 283-290.
Gilbert, P. 2013. The compassionate mind. Robinson.
Hawranek, M. 2019. orig. Cisza na wyginięciu (Silence in extinction), Przekrój, 3568/2020.
Szmid, J. orig. Cisza i hałas w środowisku życia ludzkiego - wymiar cywilizacyjny, społeczny i egzystencjalny (Silence and noise in the human living environment - the civilizational dimension, social and existential dimensions). In Tadeusiewicz R., et al. Olearczyk, T. (ed.). Cisza w teorii i praktyce: obraz interdyscyplinarny (Silence in theory and practice: an interdisciplinary picture).