Verbal Detox: My 48-Hour Vow of Silence

I took a 48-hour vow of silence. It was an abridged version — mama still had to work. But it was eye-opening. It was an internal revolution I may strike up once a week. This is what I did:

  • I had a vow of silence at home and on the phone, but I was able to respond to emails and texts.
  • If I had a work call, I would take it. Luckily, that didn’t come up.
  • I tried not to strike up conversation with strangers, but I did let out the occasional “Thank you!” and “Medium drip with half and half” when I was at the coffee shop.
  • I was able to gesture to my husband, Craig, but I tried to streamline the charades.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. Much of what I say day-to-day reinforces an anxiety-prone narrative in my head.

I realized that my initial impulses to speak had to do with information that was about planning, preparing and connecting myself with a future state: Did we book the hotel room? Did you get my email? I wonder if we’ll see so-and-so tonight?

I don’t think those are bad sentences in and of themselves, but it was interesting to me that I didn’t have the impulse to articulate wonder or beauty or loftier ideas. My mumbo jumbo had to do with what’s next, completely out of presence. And the cool thing was, because I couldn’t speak, I saw how invaluable those future-oriented statements tend to be. Everything remained in order. I didn’t need them. No one missed them, least of all me.

2. My defense mode restricts the humor in my life.

The first night, I made us dinner with our veggies from our CSA. All the peppers (sweet and hot) were mixed together, and for some reason, my brain assumed they were all sweet. However, I put all hot (very hot) peppers into the veggie stir fry. And there were a lot of them.

When it came time to eat, Craig and I started coughing, our eyes started watering, our cat, Aggy, left the room because the smell was too much for her little nose. Craig was laughing, but my first thought was: Ah! I have to tell him I didn’t mean to put all those hot peppers in! I thought they were sweet!

It was so strange to me that my first thought was to defend my intention. My intention had nothing to do with the fact that it’s funny when people eat hot food. Why did it bother me so much that he couldn’t know my intentions were not to “do it wrong?” So my inner defense was forced to fall because I couldn’t verbally cover over my imperfect tracks.

And ya know what? That one felt kinda liberating.

3. There’s an everyday wonder I’m missing by speaking every thought.

Remember when we didn’t have Google? You’d say, wait, when was Princess Diana born? Or, what exactly is Kimchi? And you wouldn’t know! You couldn’t look it up. You’d have to wonder about it. People would posit answers back and forth, never really landing on much more than a hunch.

Of course, we don’t do that now. We ask Siri, type it into Google and get the answer ASAP. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the wind is kind of let out of the wonder sails.

That’s what it’s like when I’m speaking every thought I have. (And I realized by my vow of silence that I have been speaking a lot of my thoughts.) Keeping some ideas to myself gave me a secret. It gave me space to wonder. I wondered: Do I really think that? Is XYZ the case? And, Hmmmmm.

I realized: slowing down gives you time and space, and, time and space lead to childlike wonder.

So I’m going to do this vow of silence detox again. Maybe I’ll get bolder the next time and write down my coffee order while giving an apologetic (but flagrantly charming) smile to my barista.

I think it’s worth it for everyone to do at least once. We do juice cleanses and closet makeovers, why can’t we clean out our verbal habits?

Try it out and tell me what you think — even if it’s just for an afternoon.

Originally published at on September 20, 2016.

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