Silence ft. William Morgan
Silence is hard to find. Silence can be comforting or uncomfortable. We’ll explore some of these ideas in this episode of Wake Up Call. We’ll also spend some time talking with William Morgan, the Artistic Manager of a theater program for the deaf. What are his views on silence and what has this position taught him?
Eugène Fromentin - Painter and Writer
David Moss: Silent is not a fad. It's a forever space that we can choose to enter, or not enter, at any moment in the day to day of our noisy world. The problem is most of the noise comes from within ourselves. We can turn our phones off, turn the TV off, ask Alexa to turn it down and so on. But what happens when we can't turn our thoughts off? We can have complete silence all around us, but our heads will be flooded with disconnected thoughts. I don't know about you, but sometimes I can't stop thinking.
David Moss: We weren't trained at a young age to meditate like the monks do in Tibet, or the Buddhists or Indian gurus. For example, Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order used to spend seven solid hours a day in silent prayer and came to the only possible conclusion. Silence cancels all rational and discursive activity, therefore enabling direct perception of the divine word. I don't have seven minutes, let alone seven hours, but I want divinity, daily divinity. So, how do we find our way to silence? Why can it be uncomfortable at times, and how does it help us become better people? These are some of the questions we explored with our guests today at CreativeMornings. I'm your host, David Alan Moss and I'm glad you've joined us for another episode of Wake Up Call.
Tom Fox: Hi, I'm Thomas Fox with CreativeMornings Cleveland. We're thrilled to have Evergreen Podcasts onboard as our official podcast partner. Evergreen Podcasts is committed to producing the best original content and engaging shows. Right now you're listening to Wake Up Call recording on location at the monthly CreativeMornings lecture series. Enjoy.
David Moss: I think we're both comfortable with silence with each other especially.
Lauren Morgan: I love silence. I long for silence. I'm from a more rural area originally and so I loved laying in bed at night and having it just be silent and I don't feel like I get that in the city. So, I sleep with a white noise machine and earplugs in. And I'm just like, "This is the closest to silence I can get."
David Moss: This is Adam Reifsnyder and Lauren Morgan singer-songwriter duo. The Fairdowells and a happy couple. I spoke with them on the topic of silence and how they use it to get in touch with their creativity as musicians.
Adam Reifsnyder: I think in songwriting, even being able to eliminate all other things around and just get in touch with a vulnerable space. Any anything creative, I think writing art, being able to be silent so that you can really go to deeper depths within yourself and translate that into something.
Lauren Morgan: And maybe to bear witness to someone else's process. If somebody is in pain or they're grieving or they're upset and you love them and you see them upset and they want to talk about what's happening. Sometimes for them, it's slow and for a lot of us, I think we're like, "Oh God, they're uncomfortable. Fill the spaces, fill the holes, fill the silence." And so we'll interrupt processing sometimes. I think it's really hard to stay grounded and silent and just hold space for people sometimes. I think that's similar to that creative moment where just be still and trust that things are happening as they should.
David Moss: The idea of stillness is such an elusive one. I mean, how often do you stay still in the day. If you are a yoga teacher, I'd imagine not very often. We then discussed the use of a sensory deprivation tank where you're forced to stay still and be silent. Would you do it?
Lauren Morgan: So you're floating perfectly in this water because it's salinated. And it's exactly your body temperature and you're in a tank where the lid closes and so it's pitch black and it's full silence. And so it is like being 100% totally inside of your own consciousness, which I'm like, "Oh my God, that's so amazing." How do I get there?
Adam Reifsnyder: That does kind of sound terrifying at the same time. It's almost replicating what you might imagine death feels like, is there's no outside influence. There's no light. It's the absence of everything.
Lauren Morgan: I'm totally cool with being dead. I just don't want to do the dying part.
David Moss: So, there are some people who, like Lauren, long for silence and then there are some people who prefer to be surrounded by noise. That's Kathy Blackman. She's owner of the Grog Shop, one of Cleveland's premier music venues. It's where we held this month's breakfast lecture for CreativeMornings. And Kathy, her thoughts on silence are honest. And as a music venue owner, not surprising.
Kathy Blackman: I'm not good with silence. I'll be honest. Like yoga, I can't take it. When you're there like, "Oh, it's the quiet time." I'll lose my mind.
David Moss: Why? What is it about silence that makes you uncomfortable?
Kathy Blackman: I don't know. I mean, it's not that I... I'm not sure.
David Moss: Maybe you're tuned more to vibration. Even at the quietest level. It's still not totally quiet. It's that dynamic. You like the dynamics of more.
Kathy Blackman: I think if it's silence's around me, then there's not silent. Everything's going on in my head. And if there's a lot going on around me, nothing's going on in my head.
David Moss: So actually it-
Kathy Blackman: Does it make any sense?
David Moss: No, because I'm kind of like that. That sounds quiet me. It's the proverbial noise machine puts you to sleep, right? Or possibly the idea that there's a parallel here between silence and peacefulness. There doesn't necessarily have to be silence that creates a calm inside our minds. It can also be gentle noise.
Kathy Blackman: I like more peaceful music, I'll be honest. In the car, I listen to classical and my favorite genre tends to be more Indie shootings or kind of rock. But it's not silent. It's just not loud. Yesterday, we had a soundcheck going on and I'm like, "They're not so bad if you're really far away from them," because otherwise, it's so fricking loud. So, I guess there's a difference between loud and sound.
David Moss: Kathy is onto something here. Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, states that music is the second most potent source of energy. Music is so powerful that it has the ability to shift your mentality in a matter of seconds. Music that calibrates on a higher frequency like Bach, Wagner, Strauss, Tchaikovsky has proven to give you a good brain workout and also reduces blood pressure, causes the release of dopamine and even improve cell function in your RNA and DNA. Sounds a lot like the benefits of meditating in silence.
David Moss: Our final interview was with Bill Morgan. He was the guest speaker at today's CreativeMornings. Now, in direct contrast with Kathy Blackman at the Grog Shop who works a lot with noise. Bill works with the deaf community. He's the artistic manager for CHSC the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center where he controls the day to day activities of SignStage, a deaf awareness theater program. He speaks finally on the topic of silence, which is both enlightening and empowering.
David Moss: Do you think that your role with the theater and with the program, part of that is it seems like we talk today a lot about perception of silence? Is your role kind of to disrupt that perception in the general community or in terms of an outreach change people's minds about silence?
William Morgan: Yes.
David Moss: Simply?
William Morgan: That's the short answer.
David Moss: I'll take it. And now for the long-form response.
William Morgan: What I mean by that is, you may hear me say I use the terms where I say I advocate for the deaf community, which is basically part of what my responsibility is for the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center. I'm an entertainer first. I grew up as a director, actor, writer and I was making a living doing that. Maybe, it wasn't a lot of money, but at least I was able to pay the bills just by using my talent in that way.
William Morgan: But then when I got involved in the deaf theater, again just took a job. Everybody asked me, well how'd you start with sign language? And I don't have a very fancy answer. It just, I took a job, it just, there was a job available. They said to do this you have to learn sign language. And I said, "Okay, I'll learn sign language." But then, of course, that then went on and on and on and years go by and then eventually it morphed into, now it's a more of advocating for the deaf community using my theater techniques as it is. But I'm still an entertainer first. I call myself an entertainer who can teach. I'm not a teacher who can entertain.
David Moss: Bill stated in his speech this morning, emotions are the same for everyone. Feelings are the universal language. We think of silence as being the lack of sound. We think of sound as being the sensation of vibrations through the air hitting our ears, but it's not. Sound is movement. And this is how sign language works and this is how something with no sound can, in fact, be very, very loud.
David Moss: You've got all kinds of probably things you could share about your relationship with silence or what does it mean? It's different for probably we've noticed people sit down and they have different ideas of what it means for them. It's very personal.
William Morgan: It's interesting because obviously if a person is deaf and they can't hear, the natural thing for a hearing person to think is that they're living in total silence. And it's only natural to think that. Now, technically, maybe they are, technically speaking. But what's interesting is that the deaf community is actually also very loud, very, very loud because of the movement and the emotions and the facial expressions. Because that is part of their language. So what's funny is that when I was new as a hearing person to the deaf community, I would be over here watching these two deaf people and their faces are all angry and their movements are really intense and-
David Moss: Or even exaggerated.
William Morgan: Yeah. Very much.
David Moss: Animated.
William Morgan: That's the word, animated. And I had the feeling like, "Oh my God, they must be in an argument with each other about something. Or maybe they don't like each other. Maybe they're having a fight," or something like that, wrong. They're just telling a story. But in order to communicate the feelings of the story, then that's how they act.
David Moss: They were just telling a story. I love that. The orientalist painter, Eugene Fromentin, adored the silence of the Sahara. People assume that silence being an absence of noise is the auditory equivalent of darkness. Fromentin was having none of it, " Silence that rains over vast spaces is more as sort of aerial transparency, which gives greater clarity to the perceptions, unlocks the world of infinitely small noises and reveals a range of inexpressible delights."
David Moss: I may not walk the Sahara, but I enjoy the five minutes of silence I have while looking out the window after everyone's headed out the door. Sometimes, I'll even sit at the far end of the room and look across our space and just take it all in from a different perspective. Totally quiet except for me and my dog Crosby sitting there. I enjoy a dojo filled with key ops and yelps of my daughter at her karate tournaments. And the calm of my bass guitar warmups just before I go on stage for a show. They may not be altogether silent, but these are my moments of stillness and peacefulness. My moments of clarity as silence weaves in and out of my days. These are my inexpressible delights.
David Moss: Wake up call is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Mike DeAloia, lawyer, producer, and audio director, Dave Douglas, story editor, Julie Fink and account manager Connor Standish. Thanks, Toubab Krewe for the use of their song Rooster available on iTunes. If you'd please like and review this program, it would really help. Learn more about this and other podcasts from Evergreen at evergreenpodcasts.com. Wake up call, ideas that crow.