You have probably heard the saying 'Silence is Golden' many times in your life. We often hear phrases like quiet time, precious silence, silent space, and good old-fashioned peace and quiet. But what does silence actually do for us? What can silence give us that sound can’t? If it's hard for you to answer that question, you are not alone. Most people can’t escape constant noise in their daily lives and are unfamiliar with silence. We hear sound from everywhere; traffic in the street, music on the radio, having multiple conversations through talking, emailing and texting, listening to the TV, hearing the neighbor's dog bark, or any number or sounds that can be more or less distracting for our minds. The point is this: Noise is constant, and it is constantly messing with you.
I recently had the incredible opportunity of experiencing some real, long, juicy silence. I say juicy because that’s exactly how it felt; the luxurious, natural, sweet absence of sound. Let's be real, there was definitely some noise, but I’m talking about the absence of constant noise that is exhausting and draining for us humans to keep up with on a daily basis. I got to live in a tent on a beach for over two weeks, with the crashing of ocean waves rocking me to sleep at night and the singing of birds waking me up in the morning. I completed the first part of my 500 hour teacher training at Yandara in Baja, Mexico and it was like living in a beautiful desert yoga dream that I will never forget. I ate amazing vegetarian meals, got to enjoy colorful outdoor showers covered with geckos and aloe plants growing everywhere, made friends with an incredibly inspiring group of people, and most of all, had time for myself. No Internet, no computer, no TV, no chores, no driving, no traffic, no grocery store, no office meetings, no small talk. Some sounds I missed, but mostly I was amazed at how easy it was to forget about them. We observed a daily silent breakfast and did a full day by ourselves in silence on a vision quest. Having quiet time to sit with yourself is a profound and moving experience to treasure.
When you experience real quiet, you can hear yourself think. You can observe thoughts as they come up in your head, watch them resolve, and move on to the next thought. It’s like watching clouds appear, change shape and absorb back into the atmosphere. Your thoughts are not interrupted by morning alarms, notifications on your smartphone, or questions from your significant other. Having silence is a meditative experience; you don’t need to sit in a cave with your eyes closed to feel the positive effects. Instead of associating with every little thought and getting attached, you can watch your jumping monkey mind swing from tree to tree in the jungle of your brain, producing idea after feeling after stress and then starting the cycle over again. You can never completely stop thinking, but you can learn to observe your thoughts instead of attaching to them.
Having some good old-fashioned peace and quiet gives you a much-needed break. You can exist as a human without having to keep up with and respond to outside stimulus all the time. When you can enjoy silence, amazing thoughts of clarity and perspective can emerge about who you are and where you are going in life. You can observe realizations about the behavior and choices of yourself and those around you. The first English translation of the phrase ‘Silence is golden’ is from the poet Thomas Carlyle, and I find that it sums up the peace found in quiet very well:
"Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule. Not William the Silent only, but all the considerable men I have known, and the most undiplomatic and un-strategic of these, forbore to babble of what they were creating and projecting. Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity."
I would encourage everyone to experience the sound of silence whenever you have the opportunity. Turn your phone off, take a few extra minutes in your morning routine to breathe, walk by yourself in nature, or whatever fits into your life. The longer the quiet, the more your brain will relax and your heart will expand. When you really think about it, silence IS as precious as gold. At least harder to find in our modern lives.