Updated: Oct 19, 2020
When Norwegian author and explorer, Erling Kagge walked solo for 50 days across Antarctica to the South Pole, he said it was the quietest place he had ever been.
‘Alone on the ice, far into that great white nothingness, I could both hear and feel the silence,’
he writes in his best-selling book Silence In The Age of Noise. Rather than fear and avoid this intense stillness, Kagge indulged in it, even to the point of leaving the batteries of his radio in the rubbish bin of the plane which had flown him there. Kagge wants us to metaphorically find our own South Pole, to understand that,
‘Silence in itself is rich. It is exclusive and luxurious. A key to unlock new ways of thinking.’
Perhaps, for many of us, silence has negative connotations. We associate it with isolation, separation, fear, even a certain brittle fragility. But solitude, being mute and alone, is only lonely if we are afraid of being left with just ourselves for company. And while we are all experts at distraction, and out of practice with hitting the pause button, as Kagge endorses, being in silence can revolutionise the way we think, live and feel.
So much of who we are takes place inside our heads. We need space and departure from the noise to unravel the puzzle of our thoughts and, what’s more, ourselves. Virginia Woolf said ‘Thinking is my fighting’. It’s true, to ponder for a while and give time for reflection, has been proven to reduce stress levels, stimulate the production of brain cells and increase the ability to make better decisions. In a 2004 unpublished white paper by environmental psychologist, Dr Craig Zimring, it was found that babies who were exposed to higher noise levels in neonatal intensive care units tended to experience increased heart rates, higher blood pressure and disrupted sleep. Given this, what hope is there for us raddled adults continually immersed in this frantic world?
‘Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom’ Francis Bacon
Advocates of solitary confinement (it doesn’t have to be a prison sentence) can take extreme measures to find it. In Nick Seaver’s TED talk, The Gift of Silence, he discusses his involvement in The Shamatha Project, with monitored participants living in almost total silence for 18 months. Seaver describes the fragments of his mind ‘settling like a snow globe’.
Other recent devotees of deep meditation have been exploring the ancient Indian practice of Vipassana, which observes 10 days of silent ‘mental training’. While here, in the frazzled UK, even the BBC is turning down the volume. Radio 3’s autumn schedule has included ‘slow radio’ as ‘an antidote to today’s frenzied world’. This means half-hour podcasts of ticking clocks, nightingales singing and the sounds of a visit to a snowy forest near Oslo.
In silence we are able to activate the brain’s default mode network. This basically means that when the brain is disconnected from the outside world and, instead, in a state of meditation or even simply daydreaming, it can bring deeper levels of thinking to the surface and trigger memories and ideas.
Our work at Untapped is centred on the process of self reflection. Clients are encouraged to step back from the every day to spend crucial time exploring their thinking. We believe it’s important to ‘hear yourself think’. To truly listen to those often muted murmurings that flit through our consciousness. We inspire clients to write down their thoughts in our Untapped app, so they can be aware of the significant ‘markers’ that might reveal what has gone well and what might need doing differently. Sometimes the process of simply noticing what seems important is enough to shift a person into a more confident or peaceful place. In fact, the testimonials we receive tell us over and over again that this process is ‘life-changing’.
And the most incredible part of all this is that you don’t need to enrol in a scientific project, walk the Antarctic or stop chattering for days on end to reap the benefits. Just committing to 10 minutes silence a day, while observing your thoughts, could be the answer to those problems you assumed you would never solve.
So, whether you utilise this wintery time of year to hunker down and hibernate in peace, or you walk quietly in nature, or decide to commit to a written reflection, or even wear earplugs in public places to deaden the din, immerse yourself in the quiet because hidden in its sanctuary could be change and growth and freedom.
How to Build Silence into your Life:
Make time for silence. Ten minutes a day is a great starting point.
Walk and think in nature. Just getting outdoors can clear your head.
Write thoughts down. Then you can come back to them later.
Be random. Your reflections don’t have to be logical. Something good might come out of that mixed up whirl of free-thinking.
Believe the research. A study at Harvard Business School put new employees into two groups. One group reflected for 15 minutes each day for 10 days on what had gone well that day. The other group didn’t. The reflective group showed a 22.8% higher performance overall.
Discuss your reflections with someone. Talking through your findings may help you make sense of things.
Written by Jenny Tucker