Do you appreciate silence? In those quiet moments alone at home or in the office – when no one else is around — do you bask in the quietude? Or do you fill the room with music or turn on the TV for “background noise”?
As a facilitator of Dialogue, I have found that many (if not most) people are initially uncomfortable with silence, often times feeling a need to fill the void with noise. For those who are new to the process of Generative Dialogue, during extended moments when no words are spoken, my first experience is that people begin to shuffle and shift uncomfortably in their chairs or look down towards the floor. As the silence continues, inevitably someone will begin to speak, using words to fill the empty space instead of contributing something of value. Following that lead, and with some relief, the group begins to engage in needless conversation – talking a lot; but saying very little.
We are afraid of silence. But why?
Some psychotherapists say that it has to do with our fear of isolation. We are gregarious by nature. So when we are interacting with others and they are seemingly not interacting with us due to the fact that they aren’t saying anything, we feel socially unaccepted. Feeling socially unaccepted causes us to feel isolated. Alone.
Yet silence transforms us – and not just as participants in a Dialogue circle. With continued practice, silence can completely transform your life.
Silence teaches us that fewer words spoken in a meaningful way have more power than endless hours of chatter. It teaches us to listen, appreciating the value of relating to others in a way to fully understand them. Silence amplifies where we divide our attention – noticing our thoughts and assumptions, letting go of those that don’t serve.
Silence helps us to be in our bodies, reminding us that we live in an overstimulated world and the importance of balancing quiet time with active time.
With silence comes the courage to be still. Why courage? Because when we stop moving – when we stop distracting ourselves — everything we’ve been running from catches up. Silence creates a space to face ourselves; have faith in our instincts; and trust – all of which open the door for gratitude, connection and love.
Silence is powerful unlike any other source. When we turn our focus inward, our ego is temporarily quieted and we begin to see the world as it should be – a world of beauty – a world of possibility.
With silence comes introspection – an opportunity to calm the conscious mind and connect to the flow of energy around us in a way that is not possible when surrounded by noise. At its essence, time alone in silence is one of the most reliable ways to become completely present to the living generative field that connects all of humanity to an expanded sense of Self and ultimately to what might emerge through us. As we immerse ourselves in this full presence, we discover a clarity of purpose and depth of wisdom far beyond that ordinarily available to us.The Power of #Silence can transform your #business relationships Click To Tweet
Finding Silence on Planet Earth
I spend a lot of time alone in Nature in some of the most remote locations of the United States. Yet I have to say that the only time I felt to be closest to complete silence was at an attraction in Epcot Center.
Spaceship Earth takes place within an 18-story geodesic sphere, guiding its guests on a time machine themed experience. The 15-minute ride takes passengers through advancements in human communication, starting at the very beginning – before even Earth existed.
As you begin the journey, there are a few moments – but what seems an eternity – where you are in the blackest darkness and the deepest silence meant to represent what things might have been like before our planet came to be. To be placed in an environment void of all light and sound was both familiar and eerie at the same time. In a soundless environment, one can feel very alone. Herein lies what I believe makes us most uncomfortable about being in silence.
The long and short of it is that we find it difficult to be alone with ourselves. We don’t like feeling disconnected. And once all of the external stimuli are removed, all we have remaining is what’s inside. This leaves us feeling naked and vulnerable.
Time and time again, as I steer executive groups into Dialogue, there is a long period of silence before anyone speaks the first word. This silent moment is palpable; you can cut the tension with a knife. People uncomfortably shift in their chairs, looking at the floor or off to one side, afraid to lock eyes with one of their colleagues. There is confusion – what am I supposed to say? There is vulnerability – do I have the courage to say anything? An internal dialogue within each participant combined with the sound of beating hearts until someone finally breaks the silence at which point overwhelming tension becomes a feeling of relief. And as shoulders relax, a conversation begins.
It’s true that our world is full of noise. External sounds are present every second of the day. Crickets chirping; birds singing; the sound of cars on your office commute; the ding of an elevator call and the morning greetings you voice to your colleagues.
But there is also internal noise – those things we tend to be less conscious of even though they’ve been there all the time – like the beat of your pulse; the sound of your breath; and the endless thoughts running through your head.
It is only when you can be still and quiet for a long enough period of time that you can hear the deeper things to which you seldom pay attention.
The process of Dialogue embraces silence. To be in stillness – to be in quietude — is extremely transformative, presenting an opportunity to declutter our minds; move into a more receptive mode; and listen to what our hearts are trying to say. Feeling connected as we drop beneath the noise, delving deeper into meaning and understanding and in that emerge solutions that have been eluding us.
Complete absence of sound?
The definition of the word silence is “complete absence of sound.” But is it even possible to be wholly devoid of noise? And if it is possible, is it the elimination of sound that causes most of us to feel totally uncomfortable in silence? Or is there something else at play?
According to Berkley psychology professor, Ervin Hafter, “there is no such thing as zero when it comes to sound”. While zero (as in zero decibels) technically defines the threshold of our human ability to hear sound, “some people can decipher sounds in the negative decibel range.”
Whether you have the ability to interpret sounds in the negative decibel range or not, Gerry Popelka, Chief of Audiology at Stanford’s School of Medicine and inventor of the digital hearing aid, can explain why silence feels so unnerving. “The ears don’t make any kind of physical adaptation” to silence. People are so accustomed to excessive noise, “that it just feels odd to be in a place that eliminates reverberation or outside noise.” Very few of us ever experience silence; our environments are naturally noisy. “And as we live in more mechanized societies, there’s even more noise. Now you remove all of that noise and you have a different sensation. But your ears didn’t change at all. The idea of hearing your own blood rushing through your arteries is odd. It’s only odd because you haven’t listened to it before — even though it’s always been there.”
Over and above that, when you’re in silence there is an emotional and psychological shock to the system because quietude is such a “dramatic change in the sensory environment.”
What I take away from Hafter and Popelka is that silence is scary because it doesn’t exist for most of us and we’re therefore not accustomed to hearing things we don’t normally pay attention to, like the sound of our own heartbeat. While hearing is strongly associated with language and communication; it also connects us with our environment and being cut off from that environment is distressing.
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