There is a reason the US Military used rock music played at very high volume to torment prisoners in Abu Ghraib. The effect of relentless noise on a human being’s ability to organize their thoughts and emotions is well-documented.
The relentless onslaught of one rally after another, with Donald Trump endlessly on Twitter, and the news breathlessly reporting every single awful thing he says and every single tweet, and with his Administration constantly barraging us with one policy abomination after another, I fear that we and our democracy are being similarly assaulted. Trump is a liar and his statements are willfully ignorant. But one thing he’s really good at is playing the media circus for all it’s worth. He’s what happens when someone with PT Barnum’s flair for promotion meets the digital age.
One of the biggest reasons it has been hard for any of the endless parade of reprehensible things he’s said or done to stick and start tanking his Presidency is because the barrage of noise, the always something new to see nature of his actions, (and our need to report on and respond to every single one of them) keeps anyone from letting anything sink in. The media (and us along with them) are so busy trying to keep up with the next thing that they discard the old thing and forget about it before anyone has time to really process its meaning. There’s no time for any of these things to develop a life of their own, and as each thing is shouted out, outraged over and then discarded like Kleenex, it becomes trivialized and normalized. It’s part of the narrative, and safely behind him.
The relentlessness of the 24–7 media cycle and the outrage machine utilized by Trump is no different than 24–7 death metal being blasted at prisoners. It’s meant to disorient, to prevent the forming of cogent thought and will.
It seems no small coincidence that as I’m considering these things, we’re here at Samhain time, and it seems significant to me that at this time of year, pagans often host a dumb supper.
The origins of the dumb supper are unclear. But among many it has become a tradition at Samhain, the holiday outsiders call Halloween. A dumb supper is a dinner served in sacred space, where for the duration of the meal (and often during its preparation), participants are to be wholly and completely silent. The reason for the silence is to allow space during a time when the veil between worlds is thin, for one’s ancestors and the dead and spirits in general to commune with us, and even speak to us. Many dumb suppers will even include an empty chair and place setting to make space for the departed to dine with the participants. As with most things in paganism, different people will incorporate different things into their dumb supper, but the universally recognized and utterly necessary component of the event is this: the entire meal is to be conducted in SILENCE.
There is power in silence.
A funny thing happens when humans, who are by nature social creatures and who are decidedly noisy, especially at mealtimes, make a conscious effort to shut up. We become more aware, more dialed in to our surroundings and each other. The concept of being able to “hear yourself think” is not just something your mother complained about not being able to do when you and your best friend were playing punk rock at top volume after 9pm. It is a very real thing. Silence opens your mind up, and allows thoughts that have been drifting along just below the surface of your consciousness to bubble up. Things that were heretofore faceless, nameless, and just beyond your reach now have form and shape and you can recognize them and even call them by their right names.
In silence is when we may hear all the things that the hustle and bustle of daily living have drowned out. In silence we may see truths that we have been in denial about, notice things that were staring right at us but somehow escaped our attention, and discover things that are hidden from view most of the time. Silence creates space for our thoughts to move in our head. It allows us to hear the quieter spirit realms and the beings there that would speak to us, if only we were willing, and shut up long enough, to listen. Many things hide in, and may be hidden by, the practice of silence.
Even if we can’t arrange a dumb supper for this Samhain, we should all be thinking about how to create spaces in which each of us can explore the power of silence. This can be in a group or alone. This doesn’t have to be the dreaded daily meditation that is beneficial for most people, but notoriously hard for many. There is something to be gained simply by cordoning off a space in your life where there is no noise, no news, no sound. Where you simply exist in, attune to, and enjoy the silence.
This Administration is deliberate in its attempt to deprive us all of the ability to experience and enjoy silence. In fact I think it’s one of the biggest reasons why Trump has been able to stave off accountability for his actions. And it begs the question — how do we seize that power back again? How do we carve out the space in the national dialogue to actually hear ourselves think, find spaces where we can as a country foster connection instead of combat, and maybe see good sense and the better angels of our nature finally get enough traction to restore some dignity to our worn out nation?
I am not certain of the answer to that question. I know that the non-stop din of social media and news media are as much a part of the problem as Trump himself. He didn’t create the tools he’s using, that’s for sure. He’s merely weaponized them against us. But if we are to succeed in getting past the cancer of Trumpism, we will need to harness the power of spaces that are not filled with the 24–7–365 crazy-making noise of what’s next new now. The Resistance will need to be offline as well as online. It will need to be consciously committed to creating spaces where we can hear ourselves think, and to bringing others to these spaces so we can get past the noise together and create real change.
There’s a reason why we call it “peace AND quiet.”