When was the last time you spent more than a few minutes in complete silence, doing absolutely nothing? Do you ever answer emails before breakfast, check your twitter feed in the bathroom or listen to podcasts on the bus? While the digital evolution allows us to learn and interact faster than ever, our growing need to be constantly available, efficient and updated is taking its toll on our ability to calm down and focus.
When we constantly switch from one project to another, we find it harder to finish them. When we overstimulate our brains with new impressions, we become chronically impatient. When we fill every gap with other people’s words, we have no time to listen to our own.
In February, I spent a week volunteering at an organic farm in a small mountain village in northern Thailand. That week, we were over twenty volunteers from all over the world, and the usually peaceful atmosphere of the farm was shattered by everyday stress and mindless chatter. Eventually, Pinan, the former monk who is running the farm, asked if we would like to try two days of silent meditation. On the first day, we would not be allowed to speak, work, read or write.
I woke up early the next morning. Breathing out wordless clouds of mist into the freezing darkness, I dried the dishes with a girl from Germany. As the first light peeked over the hilltops, we all had breakfast in silence. Then I chose a place, a rock in the small river, and waited for my mind to slow down.
Silence can be painful. As Pinan put it: ”When you silence your mind, the bad feelings, the dirt, is not hidden anymore. You have to be patient. Wait for it to come out. Then you will be peaceful.” It made me think of the blank page syndrome. Of the fear of getting started and really listening to your own words.
Hovering between anxiety and euphoria, I ended up spending three days in silence. I realized that once you start weeding out the background noise and give your ideas some more room, they grow stronger and firmer. They form buds and branch off in unexpected directions.
Give your ideas some more space. You do not need three days to reap the benefits of silence. Try having breakfast or doing your dishes or riding the bus or taking a walk in silence. Even a moment of quiescence between two tasks can be enough to plant a seed, which might later grow into great ideas if you only have the patience to listen.
We all get stuck, but sometimes your mind is just waiting for silence. Stop filling every gap with information. Make room for your own ideas instead.