Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Silent Game

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.


  1. You've written about your experience in such a helpful way that I am tempted to try it myself. It would be very illuminating I'm sure. Did you not answer the phone? If you saw someone when you were out and they started talking to you what did you do? My two days off work per week are when my husband is at work. I'd like to do it on one of those days. No tv, no internet, no music (I would miss this) and no phone. Wow. I often talk to the dog , so I'd have to stop that too. He's deaf though so he wouldn't notice.

  2. Dear Fiona,

    Thank you for reading my post. In regards to your questions, we planned it for a Sunday, when we're both off work so we could shut off our cell phones without much interruption and have as much solitude as possible. We really wanted to be outside all day, moving our bodies, having a silent picnic and getting some sun which also meant less people, less chance for interactions.

    One of our "rules" was that we could respond to direct questions so when we were asked directions on our hike, we responded then returned to silence. People on the path that were just saying hello got a wave and a smile. It seems a bit bizarre, I know, but the goal was to shift my way of doing things to see what would come of it.

    By the way, we still "communicated" through hand holding, hugs and kisses, so hopefully the hubby and the pup will not discourage you from your experience. And I found that my brain had it's own version of Pandora so music was still playing with the radio off. =)

    I would tailor it around places that you know allow you to feel at peace, where you've been before and not had to speak, so you can relax into the silence and not feel like you're fighting for it. Let me know how it goes and if you have any enlightened thoughts or moments.

  3. It's a great idea, but now I have a son, so silence wouldn't be good. We are trying to get him to talk!

    I bet doing this when alone with hubby would make his day…men like less talk, more action (or food, or snuggling, or hobbies)…just not talk.

  4. They do hit the wall at a certain point with all the talk, don't they? But glazed over eyes aside, they do try so nicely to still listen.

  5. Ooh! This is something I have always wanted to try myself! I am not sure if my sweetie will go for it, but I am sorely tempted to try convincing him!! I think your posting will help me do just that! Thank you for posting!!
    ~Christina ;-)


  6. Dear Cristina,

    Thanks so much for reading my post. If your honey is a bit resistant to a day of silence, I have another suggestion. Maybe you two could start with a day of turning off whatever constantly tugs at you and then see where the day takes you. Much of our work is via Blackberry and the internet, so choosing to not check either really transformed our day. Part of the silence was also to take the pressure off of both of us to have to fill in for the the absence of the gadgets for the other, and to give each other the space to meditate, pray, dream, imagine, or zone out. If you still do talk, it might also be a jumping off point for you both to reconnect, play, who knows *wink* without the distractions. Let me know how it goes.