A Book of Silence

“For about the last 10 years Sara Maitland has been trying to understand more about silence: what it might mean in 21st century; what effects it has on people; how it has been used and understood in the past; why we are so frightened of it; and why she has come to love it so much.
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Her new book is an account of that adventure, a sort of mixture of personal journey and cultural history, both deeply personal and intellectually exciting. In the course of researching and writing the book Maitland spent silent time in silent places – on Skye in the Hebrides; in the Sinai Desert; in forests and mountains; in a flotation tank; in monasteries and libraries. She was trying to match her personal experiences to those of other people – from fairy stories to single-handed sailors, from hermits and romantic poets to prisoners and castaways, from reading and writing to mountaineering and polar exploration, from mythology to psychoanalysis.

“A serious, important and deeply engaging book, describing with equal honesty the risks and the resources of silence. In describing her own exploration of these, Sara Maitland prompts some very uncomfortable questions about the fear, the shallowness and the lack of attentive listening that so effectively keep us prisoners” Archbishop Rowan Williams

“This book is partly a cultural history of silence which considers fairy-tales and flotation tanks, solitary confinement and religious orders, but mainly it’s a beautiful and serene memoir about trying to find inner (and outer) peace in a cacophonous world. I adored it” Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller.

“This is a thought-provoking book, sincere and never dull. We can only envy her at the end as she sits in a Scottish fastness enjoying…silence” – Rodney Trourbridge, The Bookseller

“Full of strange beauty, humour and lightly-worn learning, this inspiring meditation is the perfect balm for the noise-addled modern
mind.” Charles Ferneyhough

“Sara Maitland’s search for silence and solitude turns into an intriguing spiritual quest which takes the reader deep into her inner thoughts and fears. ‘A Book for Silence’ records a brave and adventurous psychological journey that will speak to all who have doubts about our increasingly over-materialistic society.” Stuart Sim, author of Manifesto for Silence

“I am grateful to Sara Maitland for this joyful book, filled with humour. It is a beautifully written, the fruit of prolonged experience of different sorts of silence, as well as wide reading and real scholarship. It uncovered within me a half-forgotten hunger for silence which surely most of feel in this noisy world.” Timothy Radcliffe, OP

“Maitland’s exploration of silence is as intimate as her own back doorstep and, in its intellectual range, as sweeping as the open moor before her.” Gillian Allnutt

“A timely and alluring exploration of the pleasures and powers of silence; Maitland writes with the serenity of one who has just returned from a place where I would very much like to go.” Tim Parks

“Inspiring, absorbing and intellectually stimulating: I haven’t enjoyed a new book so much for ages… Sara’s own quest for silence forms a magical thread throughout, giving the book the impetus of a spiritual autobiography, richly traditional in its origins and certain aspects of its shape, contemporary in its approach to specifically modern problems…As I write this, fairly late at night, in a reasonably tranquil suburb, I can hear the noise of a passenger plane, a war plane, road traffic, a neighbour’s stereo and a car radio, plus the clatter of washing up and voices from the kitchen: for many, one of the more poignant aspects of this book may be a realization of their own loss of silence, and of the reasons – and the importance – of Sara’s quest.” Jenny Newman
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For Sara Maitland, a practising Roman Catholic, silence has a profound religious dimension, which is also examined and discussed. This journey into silence has held surprises and setbacks, but mainly a deepening sense of happiness. In the end Maitland built a little house on an isolated moor in Galloway, designed for solitary and silent living.

Sara Maitland lives a solitary life in a little house on a wild moor in northern Galloway which she built in 2007: http://www.saramaitland.com/About_Me.html See also http://www.saramaitland.com/home.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Maitland She also guides tours of silence to the beautiful desert and mountains of Sinai: http://www.windsandstars.co.uk/
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For her own account of her life, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1081198/Quiet-Author-Sara-Maitlands-search-silence.html :

“Virginia Woolf famously taught us that every woman writer needs a room of her own. She didn’t know the half of it. I need a moor of my own. Or, as an exasperated friend commented when she came to see my latest lunacy, ‘Only you, Sara! A 20-mile view of absolutely nothing!’

But it isn’t nothing – it is cloud formations, and the different ways reed, grass, heather and bracken move in the wind, and the changing colours, not just through the year but through the day as the sun and the clouds alternate and shift.

I think about how beautiful it is, and how happy I am. Then I think how strange that I should be so happy sitting up here in the silent golden morning with nothing in my diary for the next fortnight, no one coming and me going nowhere.

I find myself trying to think through the story of how I came to be here and why I want to be here.

I just want to sit in the sunshine on my doorstep and listen to the silence and stare at the sheep.

I want to say my prayers, write stories, read books, make a garden and walk up the hill behind the house so that I can see the sea when the weather is clear.

I want to watch for young foxes, for the occasional deer, for the first swallow, for the moment when the grass turns from green to gold. I want to sit out at night and count all the stars.

I want to have a long, long time to do all this, so that the silence has a chance to work in me. And then I really do not know what will happen next.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1081198/Quiet-Author-Sara-Maitlands-search-silence.html#ixzz2guxf0i3N

“Sara Maitland’s book is not about peace and quiet. It is about silence as a practice, a discipline, a way of life. A cottage in the country will not do. It is more a matter of desert caves and open oceans, or, in her case, wild Scottish moorland. It’s the real deal.

How Ms Maitland gets to that point is a long story; a hunt for greater solitude and further remoteness along the length of Britain, with a detour to the Sinai desert, which she describes with a disarming sense of being thought mad. Her friends tell her she is, and she realises that the modern world has little room for serious silence seekers. It is not just that blasting radios, mobile phones, traffic and aeroplanes can be a source of despair. It is also the assumption that communication and relationships are central to all human life. Ms Maitland knows this because she has been there. Brought up in a large, articulate family, she was nourished on argument. Her politics, her feminism and her religion all fed on talk. In such a context, silence becomes an absence, a mark of intellectual abdication, a rejection of humanity.

Ms Maitland is a Roman Catholic convert and she is frank about her desire “to explore my own spirituality and deepen my growing sense of the reality of God”. But “A Book of Silence” is not primarily a work of theology. What interests the author is silence itself, wherever it leads. In the face of hostility and suspicion she wants to rehabilitate it, to discover its history, to call on witnesses from every tradition and every kind of circumstance—from early Christian hermits to the Romantic poets to single-handed sailors and mountaineers. It is both an analytical, theoretical fascination and a personal one, her reading and her experience locked together, each testing and illuminating the other.

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“We live in noise. The world is a booming, rustling, buzzing place to begin with (though many of us have shut out nature’s clamor), and to that we have added every conceivable vibration of our own making and every possible means of assault, whether it’s the vast, thrumming climate-controlling systems of our sealed buildings or the tiny earbuds nestled against our cochleae. What chance does quiet have against all this?

Plenty, it turns out. Sara Maitland has scaled the heights (or is it depths?) of what might be the only frontier humankind will never conquer and cannot, in spite of itself, destroy — silence. Infinite, fathomless, terrifying, uplifting, unknowable, gorgeous silence. It’s difficult to convey the thrill of “A Book of Silence,” an adventure story that doesn’t involve roaring crowds or screaming headlines, doesn’t depict a heroine climbing high mountains or sailing vast oceans, doesn’t chronicle racing pulses or sweaty palms, and yet is every bit as awe-inspiring, death-defying and mind-blowing as any trip up Everest. Rarely have I been so amazed at the splendor of a new landscape unfolding before my eyes, and felt so tense wondering what was going to happen as this intrepid writer pushed her way across the pages.

“A Book of Silence” is a brilliant exploration of something — or is it a nothing? — that right at the start is impossible to define precisely. Is silence the absence of words? Or is it the absence of sound altogether? Is there even such a thing as silence that we can experience? Isn’t there always the swoosh of blood through the body? Is silence dependent on external conditions? Or is it a quality of mind? What would you call the visual effect of something like a Rothko painting?

For her own purposes, Maitland decides, silence is that which is broken up by “words and speech particularly.” Her journey into silence began around the time she turned 50. Her marriage had disintegrated, her youngest child had left home, she had begun gardening (we know where that leads) and she found herself alone, free to do anything she pleased: “What I . . . wanted was to forge a life with silence at the very center of it.” Mait¬land had been a practicing Christian for 30 years, but during this time of change her spiritual life began to intensify. “I find praying difficult, challenging and very hard work,” she confides, “but I also find it necessary, surpassingly lovely and crucially important.”

Maitland set out with many questions about the nature of silence and its companion, solitude. The most urgent was posed in reaction to a letter from a respected friend, who argued against silence as “the place of death, of nothingness.” Yet Mait¬land became convinced that silence was not a “negative condition” but “a positive presence.” So she set out to prove this radical proposition — one that, as it happens, caused alarm and concern among her friends and family. People who spend a great deal of their time quiet and alone are often considered selfish, if not misanthropic, although nothing could be further from the truth. Maitland sets out from a place of loving concern, full of tenderness for the human condition and hope that we might fulfill our best destinies.”



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