By Dominc Stephen
I like listening to silence – that familiar numbing isolation in winter when all sound seems to evaporate and disappear, absorbed by freshly fallen snow. Silence is a mental space – to escape the contaminating chaos of everyday rushing and university deadlines, and instead enter a space found in the safety behind closed doors or eyelids.
University College Utrecht provides just this sort of space, in the Meditation Room on campus. UCU’s DanceCo has seemed to recognise the value of such a comforting and meditative area, and has introduced it as one of their venues for some of its classes each week. Containing not much more than a couple of cushions and some symbols of religious acknowledgement, this is a room of subtle but profound value. It is a room that allows us, for ten or fifteen quiet minutes, to be productively selfish and comfortably lonely – something that I feel can be hard to find on such a sociable campus as UCU.
Servings of social life here are certainly not conservative. The breezy thirty-second walk from Kromhout to Dining Hall almost always becomes a group-activity, with students converging to eat at the same destination at the same time. Going for a “quiet meal alone in the dining hall” is a contradiction in terms. And what about a nice and gentle movie with a cup of tea on a Thursday night? No chance. Too much of a good thing can turn out to be the very opposite. A cream cake tastes good at first, but an additional ten, not so much. Diabetes and sugar-induced nausea have nothing to compete with the initial hedonistic rush of a one-off sugary snack. The familiar maxim often rings true – ‘everything in moderation’.
Let me clarify – I’m not saying that the company of others is in any way a bad thing. Those who have travelled solo before, hiked, or locked themselves in their bedroom for weeks for exam preparation will not forget the emptiness and restlessness soon felt when deprived of familiar company. After all, we are all inherently social animals; and also individuals within a broader social context.
Individuals… Allow that word to resonate. We are but individual pieces of a larger social puzzle, and this can simultaneously be a humbling yet empowering realisation. Humbling because the darkness of muffled anonymity can seem petrifying, but empowering because a period of conscious solitude can be the uninterrupted source of true creativity, development and wisdom. Ask the writers, the artists, the philosophers, the meditating Buddhists and all open-minded introverts and extroverts alike.
So, my thoughts? Avoid suffocation, allow yourself space to breathe. Escape the sometimes overwhelming hysteria of a twenty-four hour social life that we are all otherwise privileged to be a part of. Find a quiet bench or a patch of grass. Sit, and breathe. In solitude. It’s important.