How silence breaks barriers down — and what emerges from it

We talk pretty much during the whole time we are awake. Nonetheless, silent retreats are on the rise, as reported by Lonely Planet. We seek silence and at the same time we can’t stop talking, messaging, scrolling through social media. Where is the conflict rooted and what are we really looking for?

I have always been pushed to talk. I told opinions, lies, truths. I judged and offended myself and other people. I denied the truth in a compliment and I hardly gave compliments. I was used to drown people in a river of words.

Words are powerful. With words, we can express desires, set goals and plan actions. It is interesting to notice how writing goals down can help in achieving them. I wrote all I wanted to achieve in every relevant chat. I surrounded myself with things to do, often useless things. I created noise. The annoying noise in my life came not only from a long to do list, but also from the amount of hours I spent in front of a pc, both to get the research done and to interact with my friends. Whenever the two tasks overlapped, I started feeling nervous and anxious. I was caught between two fires. Consequently, if I wanted to keep healthy relationships and build my career in the research field, I had to work incessantly.

I worked for about 12 to 16 hours per day. I swung between my two main tasks, not neglecting the rest of the to do list. You can easily imagine that after more than 5 years of this life style my energy level was very low.

I was sick two to four times per year and if a friend pointed out that I could use a holiday, I would reply that I just spent an amazing relaxing weekend. Relaxing and amazing meant that I ran some experiments, I got the results and I notified my boss about the nature of the results.

I kept going on until I pushed it too far and, as you can foresee, something inside myself snapped. It hurt. In an attempt to heal, I decided to investigate where the roots of my behaviour were and I spontaneously dove into silence to be able to listen to myself. I explored solutions. One of them implied to not attend parties anymore. Too many things to take care of before, during and after the party. Preparing food and the consequent performance anxiety were taking a toll on me. “What if it is not enough?” “What if they won’t like it?” The party itself was exhausting with all the interactions I wanted to keep alive and the always present fears, just to not miss out the full party experience. Fears related to how appropriately I was dressed, how smart my jokes were, how charming I was. Fear that people wouldn’t like me. Can you relate to me at some extent?

I got increasily fascinated by silence. Two of my favourite movies are 3-Iron and The Great Dictator. I was completely absorbed by the stories of these two movies where words are hardly spoken. I empathized with the characters and it came so natural. Thus, I introduced at least half an hour of silence in my daily routine. What did I do? Nothing. I lied on the bed looking at the ceiling, I sipped an infusion, I sat with my eyes closed. I followed my thoughts.

Most importantly, I introduced silence in my relationships. How? Let me give you an example. I can think about some logistics like what movie to watch or when to make a cappuccino. I feel the urge to communicate it to my girlfriend and I simply refrain myself from doing it.

Why? Because I can easily answer up to 95% of the questions that cross my mind and because I want to reduce noise in my life. So, after a moment of hesitation, I wonder what I am really trying to accomplish by expressing my preference for either a certain movie or when to sip a delicate cappuccino. If I take a moment to think about it, I realize that my questions aim to make my life easier. Then I try to go deeper. If I were alone, would I find answering those questions by myself a heavy task? Not at all. So, once again, what am I trying to accomplish?

Let’s assume for a moment that I just pick a movie on netflix. My mind would then already make a forecast, if my girlfriend doesn’t agree with my choice, she would eventually ask me why I picked that movie and why we can’t watch something else instead. I would then feel the need to explain myself and we will eventually end up talking about a topic that I would rather skip. In another scenario that my mind shows me, my girlfriend just picks another movie and then I will be the one asking for an explanation. Again, we end up spending energy in talking about a fairly silly topic.

Why do I feel the need to explain myself? Why do I care so much about which movie to watch? Do I really care about it? Honestly speaking, I can’t care less. What I want is to spend a cozy evening and watching a movie is part of the coziness. If my girlfriend asks me why I picked that movie, I can reply that I actually don’t mind to watch something else. I would make space for other options. If she picks something else, I can swallow my pride because I know that I am just in for a relaxing evening. So, what is pushing me to invest efforts in something that I don’t even care about?

Digging deeper, I unravel the true reason. It feels like discovering and polishing a gem. A slow process that demands my full attention to be completed. I see that my apparently negligible questions aim to take the opinion of the other person into account to converge towards an activity that satisfies the two of us. Therefore, I want to both be reassured that the team spirit is still there and to strengthen the relationship. Bottom line, my inner child wants to hear that everything is fine while my adult part craves for establishing a meaningful connection.

Refraining myself from talking means that I am mindful about my thoughts and that I can dig deeper until I get in touch with my insecurities and longings. The implications of this process are:

  • A more focused mind. I am focused on why I want to interact. Thus, I feel relaxed because I am fully aware of what’s going on within myself. I don’t get caught in misleading interactions that make the relationship vague.
  • Less redundant interactions. A reduced number of interactions channels energy towards what I really care about.
  • Much more freedom of expression. Being in touch with myself on such a deep level allows me to admit my fears and insecurities to myself. Once this step is made, admitting the same things to other people is painless. I am then truly free to be myself.

In a nutshell, since I started exploring silence I reduced noise and distractions within myself and around me. I make room for new options while I decrease the impact that pride has on me. Consequently, I feel more relaxed and open to life experiences because I know who I am thanks to sincerely listening to myself. An open dialogue with myself brings honesty and unconditional acceptance. What emerges from this process is a deeper connection with another person. That’s the astonishing epiphany.

In fact, I must admit that when I decided to experiment with silence, I was afraid that it could destroy all my relationships. With time, I understood how I could reinterpret its meaning. Now, I realize what silence truly is for me, a diapason that resonates with the core of my being and spreads out who I am.

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I mentor people to develop the required soft skills to become successful remote workers —