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2024 / March

The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend

The Retune Blog - 29th March 2024

Some songs have become legendary in the stories that have arisen as to how they come about. Take Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence which opens with the lyric:

Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

Some people have said that it was written in relation to the assisination of JFK, although the song was actually performed live before he died. Some have said that it was written in relation to a classmate from school who went blind. Paul Simon says he wrote it in his bathroom singing the lyrics as he turned off the lights to help him concentrate on songwriting. Art Garfunkle says it was written later as a commentary on how difficult people find it to emotionally communicate with each other.

The fact that there are so many interpretations and ideas just adds to the mystery of the song for me. So, just to muddy the water further, here’s my interpretation. I think it reflects a saying by a Vietnamese monk which became influential in the development of Morita Therapy. The monk would say:

Hello solitude. How are you today? Come sit with me and I will care for you.

I’m sure you can see the parallel. This idea became a key point as Shoma Morita developed his unique form of Japanese psychotherapy. In this approach we are encouraged to accept our emotions without trying to control them on the basis that our feelings change with our actions. So, if feelings are seen as symptoms, the idea is rather than focusing on eliminating the symptoms, we can accept them and then create new emotions on the basis of our actions.

In a strange way, this sort of brings us back to what Paul Simon said himself about the origins of the song. Going to the bathroom and turning out the lights provided him with a place where he could focus and write. It was an action which encouraged and formed a creative space where he could thrive. In Morita Therapy this reflects the idea that rather than focusing on the symptoms of our emotions we should be doing what we should be doing instead and that recovery will come on its own.

Looking at the research on modern application of this idea, it’s clear that this isn’t something that works for everyone, but then nothing does. But for some the idea that we can’t control our emotions but can decide our actions provides a really practical way of taking control of our future when we feel all at sea. And for us it leaves a really practical challenge which aligns with the principles of coaching. If things are tough or not working out, why not ask ourselves what we can do rather than being stuck in what we can’t.

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Founder and Director of Metanoeo CIC and Metanoeo Coaching. Working with individuals, communities and business to co-create #wellbeing4all through life coaching, resources for living life well and training and supporting life coaches.

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