Recently, I practiced a day of silence with one of my dearest friends. This meant no phones, internet, radio or talking. Spontaneous laughter was allowed and necessary. We had discussed it briefly before and worked out the logistics and ground rules to make the day as pleasant as possible with little need to actually speak up. Our plan was to wake up, make breakfast, then spend the day hiking, reading and meditating. It was silence until sundown.
It was an interesting experiment to say the least. First, it gave me a chance to hear the judgments and programmed reactions that traipse around my head on a daily basis, and figure out where they were coming from and deal with them consciously. Most of these judgments were self-directed, rather than outwardly so. I was surprised at how unkind I could be to myself, starting with my first thoughts in the morning and how much I wanted words to explain away my shortcomings. My realization? Shush that inner critic and get on with your day.
Second, I reconnected with my friend in a funny, thoughtful and unique way. During the day, we often knew what the other was thinking and proceeded on an agreed path without a word being exchanged. Other times, we just had to laugh at the fact that whatever gestures we were making, we were completely lost and would have to sort it out later. At one point, he went in one direction that I did not want to go, and the battle going on in my head over wanting to speak up versus go with the flow was interesting to experience. I didn't speak, but boy did I silently grumble!
At dinnertime, we recounted the thoughts that had come up during the day, what we were trying to say with our frantic hand movements and shared that we had both been surprised to hear the ocean waves from far atop the hiking trail. We both felt emotional and grateful for the presence of the other on the day's journey, and were better able to listen to one another with the chatter of the day removed. I couldn't do this daily (my posts are long, as I am a girl of many words,) but taking a break to re-examine the way we communicate was very insightful.
Third, it was wonderful to have the space to have some bizarre and eccentric thoughts that I was curious about and not be able to instantly Google answers to find out more. My strangest thought was "Where exactly do hamsters come from and why do you never see them on National Geographic?" I didn't say the thought was life changing, just different. And there was a grace in the not knowing, of just being bewildered by my own thoughts and having to use my imagination to sort it out rather than getting a finite answer. (Don't look it up and just try to see what kind of fun stories you'd tell a child who asked you the same question. It's a bit delightful to have to imagine again, isn't it?)
Fourth, being able to try something like this with someone that you're close to is great practice for being more mindful when with others. I could really hear my thoughts, feel the strength or strain in my movements, and by reflecting on what my response was, I began to listen to what must be the constant internal hum in the background of my day to day life. I could begin to question the automatic responses that compel all of us to react without considering what we truly want. A brief study in heuristics which I'd like to delve into again soon.
It was a bit like a childhood game for adults, and I must admit, strangely draining, but insightul and incredibly fun. I was not getting the constant stimulation of internet, phone, TV, text messages, conversation, etc. so I could tune out and shut my brain off. I had to surrender to the day, let it reveal itself and choose my path rather than being guided by search engines and TV schedules. With all this quiet, uninterrupted space, I was able to look inward and see what mentally steals my time away, so that I could face it head on.
I encourage you to do this, either alone or with someone else, so you can discover what mind tricks you may be playing on yourself to keep you from your greatest potential. Perhaps you don't speak to yourself in the kindest way, perhaps you'll find some lost time to tackle a problem or task you've been putting off. Whatever transpires, I'd love to hear how the silence impacted you.