Silence and/or Solitude?

My project ‘Seeking Silence in September’ has been inspired by writers who describe their own experiences of silence.

The first inspiration is Sarah Maitland’s great ‘Book of Silence’ from 2008. It was given great attention in the UK media and with amazing sales for a hard back was immediately reprinted .


Maitland describes how over several years, and moving house twice, she found ways to greatly increase the silence in her life.  She describes a 6 week experiment living totally alone in a remote Scottish cottage. She compared her  experience with extreme accounts of isolation and silence recorded solo sailors and mountaineers.

She also explores the different types and textures of silence found in the desert tradition of Christianity, in the silence of forests, and in the fascination of romantic poets with the awesome silence of mountains.

At the end of my first week looking for the silence spaces in my own life I remember that for Maitland silence and solitude came to mean almost the same thing. By simplifying her sound environment – living alone in a remote rural place and not using TV, radio or anything that pinged or bleeped – she created a deeper and more embracing solitude.

In the heart of the city and with a life shared with many people there are always sounds. It is not silent.No surprise. But there are a great number of deeper moments of quietness that I had not noticed before. And there is more solitude – a kind of solitude in the midst of crowds and communication.

This focused for me the difference between my inner silence – those rare moments of calm, conscious self-awareness – and the noise or silence around me.

So, if you are interested in silence – from any tradition or practice – I welcome your thoughts on the following questions.

How can we keep an inner silence with noise all around?

Can we have an inner silence and still be fully communicating?

When does being alone turn into silent solitude?