It seems simple enough, right? Just...don’t talk. That’s what I assumed. Our teacher explained we would go about our morning, being in the world, just not speaking. Then, as she gave us one last opportunity to speak, I started to mildly panic. How was I going to manage in the world — even for a few hours— NOT speaking!? I mean, I’ve spent an entire day ALONE not speaking out loud of course but talking to people is how I get along in the world, it’s what I do. I didn’t know how I could even be among other humans and not speak. It suddenly seemed impossible and ridiculous.
We began our morning of silence with a yoga practice. That was easy enough. Students don’t talk in yoga usually anyway so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But it was also a smart way to begin this practicing silence business because by the time I had to go out into the human world, I was centered, calm, and all wrung out. I was ready.
In the few hours that followed, I learned several unexpected lessons.
First, I learned the world is FILLED with noise. I am usually comforted by the noise of the world. It reminds me that I’m not alone. But in this case, I realized that the noise felt like a physical pressure on my head and body. It felt oppressive.
Second, I learned that people fill their interactions with each other with lots of meaningless talking. I am especially guilty of this. Ironically, I am a long time hater of small talk because I’m actually pretty antisocial but because I’m extroverted I’m also pretty good at it, it comes naturally to me. Despite my typical desire to be left alone, I fill the quiet space between me and other people easily with...well, bullshit. During this practice of silence I realized this action too feels filled with pressure, oppressive. During this practice of silence I was released from this pressure. It felt good.
Third, it also dawned on me that filling this space between me and other people is often filled with negative talk. Being somewhat of an empath, my mood and energy will often fall in line with the dominant mood and energy of a certain space. If the energy is highly negative (as it has been at my workplace for at least the last five years), I will be highly negative. This coupled with my ability to nonstop verbally bullshit adds up to A LOT of horribly unnecessary negative talk on my part in certain situations.
Finally, I learned that I LIKE being silent. I like being “forced” to LISTEN without the pressure of responding. I like really hearing other people and the world around me. I like being able to have enough distance between myself and the noise of the world around me to decide what noise I want to allow into me and what noise isn’t productive for me to allow in. I like being able to hear myself and know what I need in that moment — not in relation or response to the stimulus around me but just arising from my own authentic being.
My workplace has been a source of stress and suffering for many years now. During this practice of silence during my yoga teacher training, I realized it’s not only because it’s a highly negative environment but also because it is just SO LOUD, SO filled with noise. I also realized that over the years I have contributed much more than my fair share of negative noise to that din. So, it became clear to me that what I had to do at work was “practice silence” – NOT as a method of withdrawing or protesting, but as a method of controlling my own contribution to the stress and suffering.
Mostly, this works, even in meetings so far but, there are times it doesn’t work. Obviously when I’m actually teaching, it does not work at all. But something really interesting has already started to happen in my teaching because of my practicing silence outside of the classroom as much as possible. I’m much more careful about speaking in my classes. I allow much more space for my students’ voices to determine the shape of their learning. I am much more tuned in to their conversation and their immediate needs. I can hear them better. And the same is true with my colleagues.
Practicing silence calms the frantic feeling I have had ever since I can remember that I have to get people’s attention and make sure my voice is heard. I was the youngest of six kids. For a time when I was really young, I was the youngest of EIGHT (my mother fostered a couple of cousins of mine). My next oldest sibling is eight years older than me. By the time I was born, my oldest brothers were nearly teenagers. My home, my life has ALWAYS been filled with noise and chaos, people coming and going, people who have always been more important than me. As a child, I was easy to miss until I discovered my ability to make noise. And that didn’t take long. But practicing silence, now, as a grown-ass woman, calms that frantic little noise-making, attention-seeking child in me and makes me aware of when she is just rattling around in my head, desperate to find a way out. This awareness makes it easier to control her, for her own sake, for my sake as a grown-ass woman who is better off NOT behaving like a noise-making, attention-seeking child in almost ALL circumstances.
So, I guess, I recommend practicing silence – particularly if you, like me, are a natural extrovert and live with the constant expectation (yours and other people’s) that you WILL make noise. Try not making noise. Try experiencing the noise that comes at you without needing to respond to it. Learn how this noise affects you. Learn how to have more control of the noise you make back at the world.
Practice Silence, Teamies, with Love.