I am not sure of the actual reason – but when I practice my days of silence I slow down. On my walk today, I got to wondering about whether, indeed, our mouths or verbal centers are directly connected to speeding up. Perhaps, but what I do know is that silence as a practice has an impact on the function of the brain. Studies that show that mindfulness and meditation, particularly when practiced with consistency, grow the parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness and shrink the parts of the brain associated with stress (https://bit.ly/31Mu1Yi). I believe this is precisely what happens with the deliberate and consistent practice of silence. And I think it spills over into the ability to be ever more accurate in terms of how we contribute to various stresses, strains and needs of the planet.
When teaching dialogue, I make a distinction between “thoughting and thinking”. Thoughting is the rapid fire, memory-based thoughts that roll through consciousness and are driven by old experiences. These kind of thoughts come out quickly and easily in the midst of conversations and are often directly linked to old stories and well-worn habits. Thinking on the other hand, is distinguished by a slower pace and by periods of emptiness and silence. This is how the mind functions when it is open to new ideas, curious and wondering. Perhaps what I was noticing today was that over the years as I have built up my “silence muscle” and have deliberately practiced leaning into empty space and days with no “to-do” lists, I have also built my muscles of curiosity and wonder.
I remember when I first starting doing these 24 hours stints of silence I would feel anxious and fearful – a kind of underlying angst going into the time. As best as I can figure at this point, this was based in the fact that it was a new and unknown practice and I had all kinds of stories about what might happen.
What if I bump into someone? What will people think of me? What if I make people uncomfortable? What if I forget and talk? What if I actually really need to speak?
I would even have dreams that I was talking when I was supposed to be silent and I would stop talking in my dream!
In fact, all of these things have happened and many more things during these monthly days and I am still here, all is well and I have learned and grown and built muscles that allow me to live in a much more balanced, connected and thoughtful manner. I have built the muscles of Being that complement and join my already well-developed muscles of Doing. And it may be my imagination, but I do believe that I am much more aware of when I am “speeding” and I can quickly recalibrate to the present moment and what is in front of me.
Ten years later I have the very same index card that I pop in my pocket when I leave the premises of my home and hit the woods, roads, and even shops and/or airports if needed. And I have a few other cards that I use should the occasion arise – like a card that says “Water no Ice please. Thank you!”
May we all keep building our own muscles of thinking, curiosity and wonder so that we can listen with as much accuracy and self-awareness as possible for our unique contribution to the health, well-being and sanity of this crazy and stressed out world.