The Wisdom of the Silent Sunset

In order to make articles and columns available to readers here, I am reprinting them as posts. This was first published in Mused: The Bella Online Literary Review in Spring, 2009.

A few days ago, I looked out of my study window and witnessed a stunning sunset. The plum and rose radiance, the stark streaks of black clouds across the sky, the gentleness of the horizon slipping into the treetops were all aspects of its beauty, but it was the sunset´s silence that made it wise. Even though I could hear cars on the streets and the television downstairs, the sunset evoked within me a symphony of stillness that brought me out of my everyday concerns and into a place where the essences of life speak and a deeper voice that goes beyond everyday communication.

As the sunset’s beauty overtook me, I wanted to live in the wisdom of that silence forever, to understand it, and become part of it until I could carry it with me every day. I yearned for that silence.

We humans used to understand the wisdom of silence. It was holy to take a vow of silence, sometimes for decades at a time. When we walked in the woods, we could hear a single leaf rustling because no airplanes, highways, or cell phones masked the small noises that make us aware of the quiet around us. The music we listened to had pauses and hushed moments that were as eloquent as the notes and chords.

Now I do not know if I have any moments of absolute silence. Even if no one is talking, I can still hear the buzz of the refrigerator and the frazzled energy of the radio next door. Only with very special friends can I sit without speaking for even a few minutes without feeling awkward. When I walk in the door, I automatically turn on the TV or CD player just for a little background noise.

We women, especially, have had silence taken from us by having a false and vicious version of it forced on us. From the time, I was small, teachers and the media taught me, along with disapproving stares of strangers that proper young women spoke quietly and let others speak first. If I had something to say in a discussion, I waited to see if someone else would say it and, only when no one did would I venture to say my thought or opinion. I never mastered the art of interrupting and shouting over others. Mostly, I learned to shush myself, to tell myself that I had nothing of importance to say and that no one would listen to me anyway.

Therefore, silence became the barrier to overcome. It turned into the absence of the ability to stand up for myself. Silence was an enemy and a sign of my weakness. But yet, all this time, true silence has been waiting, for the proper time to return to my life, to be my ally as I regain my true, inner wisdom that promises hope and progress for not only ourselves, but all those whose lives we touch as well.

The silence of the sunset reached down and touched me, reminding me of the moments when I had instinctively called upon it. I had come to an age when family members and friends began to experience serious illness and death. At first, I would desperately seek the right thing to say to comfort my loved ones and convey my sorrow. I felt myself to be a failure when the perfect words never came and so I did not say anything.

It was then that I realized that sometimes only silence could bridge time and space, life and death, and in a way that enables me to reach those on a journey to a place where words have no meaning. By being silent, but being present in the few moments I had, I was able to say, “I love you” in a way that is more powerful than words, even than death.

In true silence, the sunset said, you can hear all those voices that are not carried on the air, but in our own hearts and minds. We remember people long forgotten, but whose lives hold messages to be heeded now. Our own intuition gives us insights that we knew all along, but which had been drowned out in the clamor of our busy lives. An idea will appear before us like a seed puff on the wind, and we can follow it to places never imagined, until we end up exactly where we are supposed to be, and have the answer to what is troubling us.

When we bring the fruits of silence to our lives, we then have the wisdom of women who know that they believe in what they are saying and doing. We will not be forced into responding to demands or taunts and, when not answered, these dissipate into the air like smoke. When we are silent, we give silence as a gift to others, too, who then are able to be silent, too, and listen to their own inner voices until they, too, know what to do.

The silence of the sunset does not last all night, but sinks down below the horizon and then the noises of the night begin: the rustling of nocturnal creatures in the grass, the buzz of insects, even the inaudible humming of the planets and stars spinning in the sky that we cannot hear but which somehow we can still sense. Therefore sunset says, when you have been to the place of silence, you will re-emerge and your voice will be heard and heeded, even if only by you. You will know what it is to be in the center of your own world, still and strong, observing all that goes on around you and choosing what you will say and when you will say it.

This is how you will carry the wisdom of silence with you, sunset says. Whenever you need to, you will re-enter that center and remember what it is to stand there, listening to your own self and directing what happens around you with your words and the actions that go with them.

As I watched, the sunset faded into blackness and the stars came out, along with a crescent moon, all shining upon me. I knew that the sunset was traveling elsewhere, bestowing its gifts on someone to the west of me. Since we live on a globe, we are all west of one another, so maybe that person was you. Did you hear it?

By Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd's essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print and online magazines and blog sites and various anthologies. She explores spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community.


  1. I saw and heard, and you have expressed it magnificently. Sunsets are liminal, magical, wondrous and they are time out of time, “woman time”

    Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. I went through a stage during early adult years 17-22 where silence bothered me to no end. Then like you said in this great article, silence came back as my friend in my late twenties and it has not left my side yet. Silence is golden. Sometimes, even the voices in my mind are too much. Complete silence is peaceful and can be shared with others. When two people appreciate silence in their company, their conversations take off to new heights, because there is no one trying to force any words or sound, just silent pauses mixed with true thoughts.

    What wonderful thoughts and insights you have! Thanks!

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