In honor of our exploration of silence this coming Sunday, we offer you the story of a little boy named Yoshio, who awakens to the elusive beauty of silence amid Tokyo’s bustle and teaches himself its secret language. This came to us from MC Sungalia. Thank you for this precious gift to us all.
Peri and Barbara
We follow Yoshio as he leaves home one rainy morning and steps into the symphony of urban sounds cascading through the city — “raindrops pattering on his umbrella,” “boots squishing and squashing through the puddles.”
As he makes his way through this aural wonderland, he is suddenly enthralled by a most magical sound. He follows it to discover a koto player tuning her instrument.
Then the koto player played. The notes were twangy and twinkling; they tickled Yoshio’s ears! When the song finished, Yoshio said,
“Sensei, I love sounds, but I’ve never heard a sound like that!”
The koto player laughed, and it sounded like the metal bell that swayed in the wind in Mama’s garden.
“Sensei,” Yoshio said, “do you have a favorite sound?”
“The most beautiful sound,” the koto player said, “is the sound of ma, of silence.”
“Silence?” Yoshio asked.
But the koto player just smiled a mysterious smile and went back to playing.
Puzzled and vitalized by the cryptic message, the little boy sets out to find the sound of silence.
He goes to the quietest place he knows, the bamboo grove behind the playground, but even there silence is ushered out by the sound of the living world.
The bamboo made a takeh-takeh-takeh sound as the wind banged its stalks together. He closed his eyes and heard theswish-swish-swish of the wind making the leaves talk. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t silence.
As Yoshio makes his way home through the city, he continues to look for silence — at the train station, at the dinner table, in the bath.
Even at night, while the rest of the family is sleeping, he listens for the silence only to hear the faint hum of a distant radio.
The next morning, he arrives at school before everyone else and sits down to read a story, which absorbs him so wholly that he is transported to the elusive place he had been searching for all along.
Suddenly, in the middle of a page, he heard it.
No sounds of footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned.
In that short moment, Yoshio couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breath. Everything felt still inside him. Peaceful, like the garden after it snowed. Like feather-stuffed futons drying in the sun.
Silence had been there all along.
In that moment, he learns what we so easily forget: that silence is not the absence of sound but the presence of an inward-listening awareness, an attunement of the mind’s ear and an orientation of the spirit toward a certain inner stillness — perhaps the positive counterpoint to loneliness, which so often thrives amid the crowd.
The Sound of Silence
by Katrina Goldsaito Originally published Sept 8, 2016 on Brainpickings.org Illustrations © Julia Kuo, courtesy of Little, Brown and Company; photographs by Maria Popova