The Power of Silence
“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu
After three weeks of coughing fits and battling pneumonia, my throat was raw. My voice sounded like Seabiscuit and it was painful to talk. I needed a break. At 5 pm on Friday evening, I made a decision – I will not speak for the entire weekend.
I quickly realized that this may have been a rash decision and would prove quite challenging. My wife and I were scheduled to attend a three day yoga workshop and concert with Wade Morissette, not to mention that I would have to take care of numerous errands over the weekend. Would I really be able to do it? How will I sign in to the workshop? What will I do if someone asks me a question? I was becoming stressed at the thought of getting by without words.
To my surprise, not speaking wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated. Rather than feeling restricted, I felt liberated, and I discovered just how powerful silence can be.
Here are 5 lessons silence taught me:
We communicate with our entire body.
Without speech I needed new ways to communicate. My first thought was to grab a pen and paper, but writing notes proved to be frustrating. I started mouthing words without making any sound. It worked, but it felt awkward. As the weekend progressed I began to realize the power of non-verbal communication. I was amazed by how much we can say with a glance or a smile. I watched others communicate and also discovered that many people say one thing with their words, but communicate something completely different with their expressions and gestures. Our posture, our eyes, the way we move, they all tell a story. That realization encouraged me to become more conscious of the messages I send and how I send them. By being aware of how we communicate non-verbally, we can communicate more effectively.
Silence can quiet your mind.
Just because I stopped speaking didn’t mean I stopped talking. My mind still raced. There was a constant dialogue in my thoughts, but it wasn’t until I silenced my outer voice that I was able to hear my inner voice. My mind worried about to-do lists, speculated about the weather and even critiqued people’s clothes. The randomness of my inner dialogue was very distracting. I have regularly turned to meditation as a way to help me find peace in my life, and I now realize that my weekend vow of silence was a form of meditation in itself. As the spiritual teacher Osho said, “Meditation doesn’t lead you to silence; meditation only creates the situation in which the silence happens.” Similarly, I believe that not speaking doesn’t quiet your voice; not speaking only creates the situation in which you can hear your voice. Once I was aware of my inner dialogue, I was able to calm it. The voice continued, but it changed. My inner voice became more focused on valuable dialogue rather than wasteful dialogue. I found space in my thoughts. Silence had helped quiet my mind.
Hearing is easy, but listening take effort.
As people spoke to me throughout the weekend I constantly wanted to respond. I knew I couldn’t speak, so why did I have this urge? Habit. When someone speaks to us, we respond. Sometimes it’s expected, sometimes it’s polite. Regardless, when spoken to, it’s habit for us to respond. And in preparation for our response, we think. We think about what we’ll say, how we’ll say it and when we’ll have the chance to speak. Unfortunately, all of that thinking often means we’re not listening. Hearing is something that happens without any effort, but listening is an intentional activity. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an argument, anxiously waiting for an opportunity to say your peace, only to realize that you haven’t been listening to what the other person said? Even during my weekend of silence, my mind habitually prepared to speak and often prevented me from truly listening to others. Hearing is easy, but listening takes effort.
Silence helps us appreciate our surroundings.
On Friday evening after our workshop, I stepped outside to wait for my wife. Wade was sitting nearby, but knew I wasn’t able to speak so we simply exchanged a smile. As I stood there, I was amazed at how beautifully the silence and the sounds of nature blended together, complimenting one another. I was standing on an urban street, yet the sound of the cold winter wind, the crunching snow under my feet and the bark of a dog in the distance all blended with the silence of the night, highlighted by a clear sky and bright moon. It was a simple, yet beautiful moment. Had I been speaking that weekend, Wade and I would have immediately started talking. Instead, I was given the opportunity to experience a very special moment. Throughout the weekend I became more conscious of my surroundings, whether they were quiet moments in nature or listening to the exciting buzz of the city. Silence is the canvas upon which music is painted. Without silence between notes, music would simply be noise. Similarly, noticing the silence in our surroundings allows us to hear the beauty of the sounds around us, and helps us to better appreciate our surroundings.
We all crave silence.
Once people knew I wasn’t speaking, they immediately dropped the volume of their voices. They would speak to me in whispers, and many would begin using expressions and gestures to communicate rather than words. I was intrigued by this. During one conversation, someone commented that they had loved the “forced silence” they experienced when they had laryngitis. A few others agreed. They had craved the silence and when given the opportunity, embraced it. Our lives today are filled with noise from traffic, television, computers, ipods, cell phones and more. This noise pollutes not only our ears, but our thoughts. Taking a break from these noisy distractions can help us quiet our mind and relieve stress.
Perhaps a weekend vacation from speaking isn’t possible in your life, but there are still ways you can learn and benefit from silence.
Here are 4 simple ways you can embrace silence:
Meditation not only silences your outer voice, it helps to quiet and focus your mind.
Read More: Meditation 101: A 10 Step Beginner’s Guide
Set aside a period of the day or week in which you don’t talk. Perhaps you’re an early riser or you walk to and from work. Take that time when you are alone to enjoy the silence around you.
Do you really need that television or radio playing in the background? No. And while you’re at it, turn off your phone for a while and enjoy some quiet freedom from those constant rings and alerts.
Sit on your balcony, stroll through a park or go for a hike in the woods. Many urban sounds can cause us stress, but the silence and sounds in nature can be incredibly soothing.
By the way, on Monday morning when I spoke for the first time in 57 hours, my voice wasn’t hoarse. I was able to speak normally again. Although, for much of the day I still chose to remain silent.