Stillness Silences the Sound of Striving

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by Brad Dell |

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Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers of the film “Sound of Metal.”

I yearn for the days I drew close, very close, to death.

Each thought, emotion, and sight weighed heavy with significance. And each breath was precious; who knew if there’d be another? I’d become deaf, and silence became peace once befriended. Each day teemed with possibilities, not for doing things — I was too sick for that — but for realizing things.

My world was formless and void, and yet it was so very sacred and beautiful. There was much to create: a new identity, perspective, wisdom, faith. A new way of being. Even in what I thought to be my life’s dusk, I wanted to know myself. And so I thought a lot, sitting still and doing nothing but grieving, enjoying, processing, reflecting, feeling.

The minutes-long lifespan of each sunset begs for silent, still attention. (Photo by Brad Dell)

Reaching that mindset proved difficult. Before then, I had a vast array of idols. I’d worshipped at the altars of my career, power, intellect, other things. In mere moments, it all burned up. Deafness destroyed my journalism pursuits, waves of medical crises tossed helpless me to and fro, oxygen deprivation suffocated my brains. The idols dissipated like vapors. All control over my life swiftly slipped from my grasp. I moaned in the night and sobbed when I woke. I panicked and cried out daily, hoping to hear my own voice.

In the film “Sound of Metal,” deaf drummer Ruben signs frantically about the need to save his life, about how everything, including him, is passing. His mentor, Joe, replies, “All these mornings you’ve been sitting in my study. Sitting. Have you had any moments of stillness? ‘Cause you’re right, Ruben. The world does keep moving, and it can be a damn cruel place. But for me, those moments of stillness … that place, that’s the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you. From where I’m sitting, you look and sound like an addict.”

I, too, was an addict. I scrambled about, screaming while clutching at my beloved idols’ ashes thrown to the wind. I had to learn to let them be, you see? In my hopeless scrabbling, I furthered the illusion that I had any control to begin with. This world’s ways are far too abrupt and violent for anyone to possess true control.

It was dehumanizing to lose my ears, traumatizing to lose my air, unbearable to lose my life.

But there’s no better way to prioritize what matters in life than to lose your life. I could barely move I was so sick. Learning stillness felt like an impossibility after years of relentlessly striving and seizing. But I had no choice. In my learned stillness, I released it all: my hurt, my pride, my “control.” In stillness, I exchanged striving for solace.

Those days of surrender at death’s door were my best on this earth. I’m nostalgic for them.

I didn’t expect the pain of moving again. I felt retraumatized when I received new lungs and cochlear implants, only to find life had continued rushing forth without me. Friends had moved on, workplaces had moved on, my girlfriend had moved on, all had moved on. (They all had good reasons.) But I was stuck.

The nature of trauma is you stay there, wherever “there” is. For years, I could only ever speak about my stretch of intense suffering. I’d long awaited fleeing that season, only to find I couldn’t bear to peel myself from it. I was endlessly reliving my traumas.

Further inflaming my heartache, I felt eons older than my friends, despite sensing that I’d been frozen in time while they’d continued their lives. In only a year and a half — the time between leaving home for my transplant and returning — I’d lived a lifetime of fear and hurt and peace and joy. I felt even more alone than when I was deaf.

Trauma does these things: It sticks you to your past yet it grows you too fast. Though I tried for a time, I was not, and am not, ready to rejoin the world’s rush. And I don’t need to. Why forsake the sacredness of stillness?

In “Sound of Metal,” Ruben strived desperately to restore his hearing through cochlear implants. He did it for his girlfriend, his drumming career, his happiness. But his girlfriend leaves him, his career is no longer realistic, and he inhabits a hollow limbo between the deaf and hearing worlds.

He’s lost “control” of all he strived to regain. His fantasized future was really only an attempt to turn back the clock, to become who he was. But trauma-wrought metamorphosis refuses reversal.

At a park, he deeply inhales, removes his implants, stills himself, exhales. His world is calm and he is simply being. The kingdom of God warms his heart. In this place, in this stillness, he doesn’t need to strive with the world and he doesn’t need control.

In my stillness, nor do I.


Brad in awe above Yosemite Valley. (Photo by Bobby Rodriguez)


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Vandana avatar


Gives a bit of hope. Go Brad!

Brad Dell avatar

Brad Dell

Thank you so much, Vandana!

Paul avatar


Beautiful account of finding stillness. Experiencing trauma is one way to it. But stillness is in all of us, always. It gets overgrown with our illusory perception of being a separate person, looking for control and happiness. In the face of death we can find out that we (the person) was actually never born but there is only being, aliveness, impersonal, as a feature of the unknowable whole. The Christian tradition describes this as the Kingdom of God. It is in us and we are in it. This death of the person/ego uncovers the substratum of vast stillness we all ever are. This is liberation.

Brad Dell avatar

Brad Dell

Love this, Paul! Thanks for the elaboration on that thought -- intriguing.


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