Both our greatest fears and our most creative ideas reside in silence. We both want and fear it.
Silence is a rare and often unsettling experience for many of us in the technological age. When the television is not on, the computer is off, our iPod is not playing, and no one is around to speak with, we often more distinctly feel our anxiety and frustration. We hear our ever-active chattering mind creating a laundry list of to-dos or carrying on multiple conversations with people not there. We contact what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “the voice in the head.”
Various voices are within us, of course, including creativity and wisdom. But there is also the voice of constant mind chatter, and this is what we often first meet when silent. This contact leads some people to think that silence creates more mind chatter. “If I just keep busy and make sure there is always noise, then I’m fine,” they claim.
We run from instead of move toward life, all because we are uncomfortable in silence, because noise has become a means to keep our fear and anxiety away.
However, silence does not create the chatter; it reveals it. And here’s the catch: the mind chatter still affects and directs our life; it still clouds our seeing, even when we can subdue it with noise.
Due to contact with this mind chatter, we often avoid silence—at such times we quickly call someone, surf online with no real focus, turn on the television with no show in mind, or play our iPod with no interest in any particular music. We do anything that takes our attention away from what may emerge in silence. As a result, we engage with technology to avoid rather than to create. We run from instead of move toward life, all because we are uncomfortable in silence, because noise has become a means to keep our fear and anxiety away. In this pattern, silence is an enemy, not a friend. As such, we are never able to see the wisdom and intuition underneath the chatter, the deeper knowledge that can be accessed in silence.
The real benefit of silence, however, is not simply a matter of stopping external noise—though that can help at times—but of allowing our thoughts to settle so all of our senses can open, and we can see thoughts more clearly. This is not so much a matter of changing the content of thoughts, but the speed at which they come. For example, if you are watching a freight train pass in front of you at one hundred fifty miles per hour, and someone asked you what company’s names are on the various railcars, you would not be able to know. You probably would have a hard time even knowing the colors of the railcars. The train is simply going too fast to notice such detail. However, if this same train passed in front of you at five miles per hour, you would know these details. You could more easily read the names and see the colors of each railcar, possibly even noticing the small space between each one. The only change to the train is the speed in which it passes you.
The same is true with the mind. With a mental train speeding by at a hundred miles per hour fueled by continuous noise, it is more difficult to see the creative thought, the out-of-the-box idea, or the unique perspective. Thus, we spend hours in a meeting or looking at a computer screen trying to find an answer that we may be able to discover if we could stop long enough to trust silence, to discover what is already there if we slow down enough to see it. The best way to do this is often to befriend silence.
How to apply silence to your life:
- Make space for silence in your life.
- If you are accustomed to working with music playing, try doing so without it. If you always play music while you drive, try doing so without it. If you always have your iPod with you when you run, try leaving it at home. If you usually watch TV or movies online before you sleep, try simply lying in your bed in silence.
- Gently make friends with such silence. At first your mind will likely resist this and counter, I’m bored. Give me something to do. However, as you spend more time in silence, you will be able to touch deeper levels beyond the mind that continually needs to be entertained.