An old 11th century Arabic proverb says “Speech is silver, Silence is golden“.
Indeed, words have impact. They can be like bullets that hurt. Once fired, you cannot pull them back. On the other hand, when you choose the right words, they can also soothe like a balm. But, sometimes the biggest impact is simply using the space between the words.
This means knowing when to stay silent or make a pregnant pause. This means leveraging on the power of silence. Rumi, the famous 13th century Sufi poet fully appreciated this and captured the beauty & the virtues of silence in his writings:
- “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation”
- “The quieter I become, the more I hear”
- “Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river. When the ocean is searching for you, don’t walk into the river. Listen to the Ocean”
For me, the essence of Silence is that it is a Practice, a Teacher and a Gateway.
Silence is a Practice
Paul Simon, from the band Simon & Garfunkel, wrote songs in his bathroom. He would switch off the lights and sit in silence in his bathroom. And the words would flow to him in the stillness of the dark. This is how we wrote the hit song The Sound of Silence … “Hello darkness my old friend, I have come to talk with you again… “
I practice silence as a ritual by meditating or through meditative practices where I am quiet and fully with myself. These can be simple practices such as yoga, exercise (running, jogging on my own) or simply everyday chores such as ironing clothes, washing the dishes or eating in silence in a mindful way.
Yet, silence is often awkward and uncomfortable as it pits us against ourselves – our thoughts, feelings & fears. Silence does not necessarily mean ‘I don’t know what to say’. Nor does it mean that I am weak. Instead, it means that I can exercise self control. It means silence is a choice which I exercise with intention.
“Practicing silence is holding the space for me to process while holding the space for you to express.”
Silence, in its essence, is intentional practice. Before blurting out an answer or reacting impulsively, I practice silence to breathe, think and choose how I will respond. This has helped me enormously both in my personal and professional life. Silence has saved me in countless situations and saved me from pointless arguments!
Silence is a Teacher
The practice of silence has allowed me to learn three core skills as well as uncover a deeper realization. First, allow me to share the three core skills which constitute the building blocks of Leadership (1) Humble Presence (2) Keen Observation (3) Deep Listening
- Humble Presence – Silence has allowed me to enjoy humble presence. It has enabled me to step into humility. Being humble means holding a space of respect & gratitude towards people from all walks of life. Silence has enabled me to stop living in the past. It has enabled me to stop overthinking of the future. Silence has enabled me to BE in the here & now and to fully live in the present moment.
- Keen Observation – Silence has allowed me to be curious and learn through keen observation. Silence quietens the voice and amplifies our senses to see, hear & feel ourselves and our environment. Practicing silence has enabled me to tune up my ability to notice the big picture as well as focus on the finer prints & minute details.
- Deep Listening – The quieter I become, the more I hear. Practicing silence has helped me to listen for structure & content. This means not only listening to what is said, but also listening to how things are said – intonations, key words & emotions used. Being a better listener allows me to be a better son, a better father, a better spouse, a better leader, a better colleague – as it enables me to hold a space where people can feel seen & heard when interacting with me.
In addition to these three core skills, practicing silence has led to me to a deep realization:
Silence is a Gateway
In my humble opinion, silence is the first step in our journey to grow and self actualize. It is a ‘Gateway for Introspection’. As Carl Jung said: “Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens!” Silence is the gateway to the soul. It is the gateway to embark on the journey of awakening to our purpose.
Our mind is a powerful device capable of jumping through time – focusing on the past, the present & the future. But our mind is also capable of playing games with us by focusing our attention on our inadequacies, insecurities and deep rooted fears.
We play mind games with ourselves through self-doubt, over-thinking and creating our own mental barriers. For me, silence is a powerful antidote to our own mind games.
“The practice of silence is not just about sitting quietly but it is also about how we quieten the mind & find our inner sanctuary.”
We all have an inner sanctuary where we can be still and access clarity, compassion, confidence, patience, kindness and other resourceful energies. It is about developing a strong connection with our intuition – the inner guidance which knows before the mind knows.
I have to confess – quietening the mind is not easy. It is a lesson which in all humility, I am still learning. I believe that accessing mental stillness enables greater clarity of mind. By clarity of mind I mean clarity of context, clarity of purpose & clarity of direction.
“Every journey starts with a clear mind.”
Every journey starts with a first step. Every step starts with a clear mind. And a clear mind starts with silence. That is why I believe that silence is the first step. When in doubt or when I feel conflicted or cluttered with too much noise inside/outside, I pause and access silence. It is the first step which helps me get centered, composed and clear.
The essence of silence is that it teaches us through intentional practice how to access a powerful gateway.
What does it mean to you? And how do you practice silence?