Keep your head quiet or lose it

Our heads are too noisy. We are constantly connected and striving for hyper efficiency. But we have forgotten how to seek out and deal with silence.

Do you remember what it was like before you had a smart phone and you were bored waiting for someone? What did you do?

You observed. You thought. You pondered. Maybe you just sat, not consciously thinking about anything at all.

Now we just reach for our phones.

We have forgotten how to be bored. Our tech has given us an easy escape. Thumbing through endless applications is a quick and extremely satisfying way to turn dull moments into entertainment and engagement.

Many of us have stopped creating moments of silence in our lives. And sadly, when moments of silence happen to come upon us, many of us fill them with digital noise. And if digital noise doesn’t kill the silence, our overly noisy heads do.

The yield of silence

I am a big Game of Thrones fan. Years ago I was struck by a specific passage in the first book.

Ned Stark is on a personal quest to discover the identity of a particular young man. Ned has his suspicions about the fellow’s identity, but he needs absolute certainty before taking action. The following passage is an excerpt from a scene when Ned presses the young man’s master for answers.

“Ned looked at the man evenly, saying nothing, waiting. He had found over the years that silence sometimes yielded more than questions. And so it was this time.”
 — A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One

Rather than incessant talking, Ned chose to shut up and let the man divulge the truth on his own. It worked. Ned got answers.

His silence yielded precious truth.

Most people in this situation would keep talking. They would try persuasion and logic. But wise is the man who knows when to shut up and be silent.

The same principle applies to ourselves.

Silence yields answers. Not only does it unlock answers from others, it also unlocks answers in our own life.

Silence is a key ingredient for inspiration and leads to personal understanding and mastery.

“If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something.” 
 — Federico Fellini

Turn down the noise

Noise — there’s a lot of it out there. If you want answers, it is your job to minimize noise as much as possible.

First, start by looking at the external noise in your life — people, technology and physical surroundings. When, where and how could you turn down some of this noise?

Do you need to go on a full digital detox? Or could you get up at 5:30am once a week and go for a walk? Maybe you could take the long way home and sit on a park bench for a few minutes. There are so many ways to find silence.

One of my favourite silent pastimes is to sit on the rooftop of my apartment building late at night and overlook the city.

Find what works for you.

But do it. Take a look at your daily schedule and carve out some time to be silent.

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” 
 — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Noise isn’t just external. In fact, I would dare say the most distracting noise is internal. We become too busy. Our head often resembles a city park on a hot public holiday — jammed with hustle and bustle. No rest, no respite, constantly thinking, worrying, anticipating and calculating.

“We’ve got to be quiet and listen. In my life, when I have failed to receive a clear feeling…it is because I was too busy, too noisy inside, and too full of my own world.”
 — Henry B. Eyring

Too full of my own world

I remember a time when my inner noisiness almost ended in disaster.

I was 18. I had spent months planning with my friend Felipe an awesome road trip from Santiago, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina.

Felipe’s mother felt sick at the idea of us going on this trip. I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences with a mother’s intuition, but I decided to ignore her feelings. I was too absorbed by my road trip plans.

Seeing that we couldn’t be deterred, Felipe’s mother begged us to at least say a prayer. That we could do. I remember saying a quick prayer with zero intention of getting an answer. Because nothing was going to stop us.

Then the obstacles began.

The day before our trip we drove into town to renew Felipe’s license. And on the way we hit a boy. He was chasing a ball and appeared out of nowhere. He rolled up the windscreen and was thrown a few meters back into the street.

To our utter shock, he stood up, said sorry, and then ran off. We were shaken to say the least.

The next morning, music blaring and feeling amazing, we finally leave. A few minutes out of town the gas tank ruptures and spills gas all over the road. Feeling dismayed, we call Felipe’s dad to come pick us up.

We spend the rest of the day fixing the car. Felipe’s dad lends us his truck to pick up a spare car part. While parking, we badly scratch the truck. Things aren’t looking too good for us.

The next morning, with the car fixed, we once again embark on our incredible road trip.

We drive 4.5 hours south and then crash the car.

No one was hurt. But we decided it was time to abandon our road trip and go home.

I often reflect on this experience. We were so noisy and full of our own world that we didn’t stop to reflect or be silent. We completely missed the “signs” or “feelings” that were telling us to stay.

For some reason, we were not meant to go on that road trip. I know that now. But my internal noisiness blocked me from receiving this answer all those years ago.

Or maybe I was meant to go and learn this powerful lesson? Food for thought.

Since that trip, I have made a constant effort to create moments of silence in my life, to ponder and listen, and correct or adjust the course I am on.

Make the effort

Being silent requires effort. It requires discipline and focus. But it’s an effort that is worth every second.

Look at your schedule for tomorrow. Carve out some time right now to be silent.

Don’t lose your head to the busyness. Start turning down the noise. You will be surprised at what you may discover in the silence.