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The Practice of Silence

Many decades ago I planned my day out — every 15 minutes. I was ecstatic about the fact that I knew what I would be doing every minute of the day. No matter what happened, I made sure I was doing exactly what my minute-to-minute schedule dictated. You can imagine the stress and anxiety I created for myself — but I felt so productive.

A few years later I was scooped up by a mentor 30 years older than me who understood the value of silence. She practiced silence well and reaped the benefits of margins in her life. She wanted that for me. Her plan: Saturday, 6:30 AM, her living room, sit in silence, 15 minutes. Since I was new at practicing silence, she suggested I repeat some kind of mantra that was encouraging, inspiring, comforting — my choice. At 6:30 on Saturday morning, I sat silently in her living room repeating to myself, “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. STAY AWAKE. STAY AWAKE. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.” Six months later, that was still my mantra. My first attempt to practice silence was a complete failure.

In a thirty year study, sociologist found that Americans are actually working fewer hours today than the workers of the 1960s, but feeling as if we’re working more. We are running at top speed but never feel like we are catching up. Part of the overload comes from the massive amount of information we access daily. A small book that can be read in one sitting is more information than existed in the Library of Congress just a few centuries ago. Another part of our overwhelm comes from constant interruptions. Scientists have found that it takes an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call. We experience those kind of interruptions every 11 minutes. No wonder we never feel like we are catching up.

Peace of mind comes from looking within. “All the unhappiness of men,” the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.” Being still is the most practical way to work through confusion. The TED book The Art of Stillness states, "It's only by taking myself away from clutter and distraction that I can begin to hear something out of earshot and recall that listening is much more invigorating than giving voice to all the thoughts and prejudices that keep me company. . ."

Start practicing silence by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing. Silence clears our heads, quiets our emotions, and gives us new perspective.


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