Haven't you heard? Silence can say anything. This nothing can be pregnant with meaning and significance. As a voice that grows quiet may intensify a point, so saying nothing at all might maximize expressive power.

'But is this not idle mind-chatter? How is it that saying nothing can mean so much?' In fact, examples abound. There is silent contempt, visible upon the brow. There is silent shame, quavering and distraught. There is purchased silence, the golden kind, the lie lucrative but never told. Silence is also a defense prerogative (I want to say "mechanism" but surely silence is no mechanism). Silence may be the unspoken virtue of discretion, the wisdom of holding back what is known. Silence may be waiting, as when we await a response. Silence may be death, no breath, no pulse. Awe is a silence, a reverent prayerlessness.

As this list suggests, there are levels of inner cognitive and spiritual silence. Ear plugs provide only the most gross and superficial subjective silence. In the quietest of places, without any sound, distress unquiets the mind, fazing it. Any sort of moral quandary, remorse, guilt, fear and anger, is inconsistent with a silent mind, even if it zips the lips. Though outwardly silent, they conceal an intense inner hubbub, be it existential wonder, festering contemplation, or merely imaginary retaliation. These troubled states are noise to a more spiritual silence, which, it is said, is a sort of knowing. In inner silence there is a different sort of truth, a higher kind of knowing.

'Is this not merely more idle-mind chatter? What can silence know? What can we know only in silence? Is there more to know in silence than the silence itself?' Quiet, please, I'm thinking...

Indeed, how could it be that in the grammerless, predicateless nonstatement of silence a truth might arise? Are there truths that can be heard but not said? And can silence even be heard? Logically, it seems it can't, but then why must we listen for it after all? What is it that gets silent in us, that needs silence (as we need occasional sleep), needs it to revive itself?

Desire once satisfied often requires time to recover to its former strength. There is a refractory period, but it arises again restored, with all its passionate clamour. There is rest, but is there final relief? The final silence of desire may seem an ominous concept, but it is prescribed by the Buddha for the removal of all sorrow. To be empty of desire is reportedly the way to absolute truth (which is a unsayable truth, so by its nature I can't go into it here). Desire that silences itself, not temporarily to regain its vigour, but on a permanent basis, — that is the way to transcend suffering. Or so the Buddha whispers.

Thus the silence of desire purports to contain a transcending truth, which is itself unsayable. But take another inner silence as example, and ask what it may know. Consider the silence of the will. This is not the will giving up or quitting: for despair is no inner silence. Rather the silent will is in the middle between options, the choice of stillness. That too is a form of silence, a silence of volition. Call it equanimity, or what the ancient Greeks named ataraxia. It is a practice of resistance (resisting the will to fulfill a desire, or to escape a misery), and is said to build a blessed imperturbable state, an autonomy and independence in the face of the vicissitudes of the shit that happens, known as life. This voluntary silence, those quiet ancient texts say, can teach us how to live.

Lastly, think of the silence of thinking, which is the true and final silence. Or rather, stop all your thinking for a moment so you have an example of what I mean. It is not the thought of silence I want to occupy your mind, but the silence of thought. Of course, thinking too needs its rest. But a sleeping mind is not a silent mind, only a mind not listening to itself. Let it listen without a word. Let it listen without a thought. This is no escape, no removal, no nodding off. This is a fundamental shutting down of cognitive apparatus, so that plain awareness alone remains, still as sleep, but resting in awareness on the one-pointed will and on a base empty of desire. The silence of thought is not a thought but the cessation of thought. It is not a decision, a choice, or a momentary coming to. It is more than the equanimous will, and closer to the arrested desire mentioned earlier, yet still distinct from it. With practice this gap between thoughts can be stretched out and held, and reportedly a luminosity may even result. Dare I say it — ? Silence may even shine. Now there is a silence you can see. And to see for yourself is to know.

End your idle-mind chatter. Come to philosophy. Wear your sneakers, but leave your muzzle at home. Squelch disbelief.