5 Steps to Silence
“By nature volatile and discordant, the human animal looks to silence for relief from being itself while other creatures enjoy silence as their birthright.”
John Gray, The Silence of Animals
Irrespective of what John Gray says, most human beings seem determined to fill the gaps in those quiet moments at all costs. We tend to feel awkward when things go quiet, so we say something or do something to close down the silence and resurrect noise. Any noise it seems is better than no noise. But this needs to be an external noise which is more a distraction from our own internal noise.
For silence does not happen when we stop speaking, or when we go indoors, or when we switch of our TVs, laptops or mobiles. Silence can only happen when we stop thinking. See my article How to better connect with your inner voices.
Our desperate drive for noise then is really a fleeing from our own thoughts.
So the search for silence is clearly doomed if we continue to search for it directly, like that elusive search for happiness that can only come about through immersion in something larger than oneself.
But because a direct search for silence is doomed does that mean we cannot attain the beauty and power of silence through other means?
No. Here I offer some recognized steps to help you along the way;
- raising self-awareness through self-reflection of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour (self-awareness has two key elements, awareness of our thoughts – which is called metacognition – and awareness of our emotions – which is known as meta-mood.) Our thoughts and emotions remember drive our behaviour. See The 5 steps to greater self-awareness
- acceptance of who we are and the impossibility of intentionally shutting down our thoughts and emotions. This in itself can be difficult as we have a tendency to live in ‘denial’ about our true self due, in part, to our socialization process: we are all conditioned through the socialization process which lead us to view things in certain ways.
To begin to see things in different ways we require some form of (internal or external) intervention, but this intervention needs to have sufficient ‘weight’ and meaning for it to lead to sustainable change. This process is often referred to as ‘deconditioning’. And in part, to our brain functioning and personality traits. See my YouTube video DISC personality profiling
Our brains are hard wired in such a way that ensures we are either people or task orientated. This means we will ‘naturally’ make more use of a network of brain areas connecting the midline (around the dorsal and ventromedial) if we are people orientated, or make more use of the dorsal and ventral attention systems if we are task orientated.
What is important to note is that the use of either of these suppresses the other. And within the brain, the strength of either will depend on how often it is used. So if we naturally use one in favour of the other this will become stronger and stronger, while the other becomes weaker and weaker. In order to counter this process, we need to take the time to reconnect with our ‘other’ side through repetitive use.
- focused attention through repetition (so rather than running away from our thoughts and emotions giving them the attention they deserve). We need to understand that this is a highly energy intensive act that will deflect energy from other areas and activities and so can be difficult to sustain – remember Freud talked about Thanatos in relation to sabotaging our own fulfilment. See my article Why are things conspiring to hold me back?
- find our ‘inner being’ or as Colin Wilson describes it, taking on a birds-eye view rather than a worms-eye view (this is equivalent to what Maslow notes as self-actualising through taking on the ‘flow’). What we referred to above in relation to happiness as ‘immersion’.
- self-detachment (where self-reflection for self-awareness that lead to self-actualisation and self-realisation are only part of a larger journey towards self-transcendence, to paraphrase Viktor E Frankl).
Bringing it all together
Silence, like many of the things I speak of and support others around, is firstly about amassing greater self-awareness to truly accept who we are, which is part of the process towards self-transcendence. As John Gray put it;
“if we turn outside yourself – to the birds and animals and the quickly changing places where they live – you may hear something beyond words. Even humans can find silence, if they can bring themselves to forget the silence they are looking for.”
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