Day 3 – Understanding types of silence & what is solitude
of Remembering “Who am I” Series
From the last chapter, we understand that silence is an inward focused awareness and outward stillness where you watch, think and listen to the world around you. This chapter we explores -What are the different types of silence? What is solitude?
[Listen to audio here]
“Silence is the hardest skill to learn. It is against our instincts. You want to fill in the blanks.”Katie Donovan
[Read the transcript here]
Hello there! This is day 3 of ‘Silence & Sound’ from the Remembering series, welcome. Let’s start today! In the last chapter, we talk about understanding silence from different perspectives. This day, this chapter, we will be exploring the different types of silence and a bit of introduction about solitude as well. Because it just matches so well with silence. Let’s start, to refresh, I would love to ask you again. To reflect what is silence to you? After the previous chapter, everyone has our own definition, what is silence for you? When you have the idea of the silence, now, let’s explore deeper. Let’s go deeper silence in daily life.
When do we use silence in our daily life? When do you use silence in daily life?
I put it into two main components: one area of life is during our “conversation-communication”. Silence is a way of communication. Another one is under the component of “practice”, we practice silence during our daily lives. Silence basically exists everywhere in our lives, and just to recap my definition of silence is how I view the lake. How the water on the lake is constantly still and not much of turbulence, but it’s calm. When the wind blows, it blows with the water flows as well, create a little waves and when there’s movements of fishes, there’s ripples, but these does not affect much.
For me, internally, is an awareness, silence. Inward awareness, inward silence and outwardly is a form of stillness where we just observe, watch, listen, whatever surrounding in our world, in our life. It’s the reaction the non-reaction that I have with awareness as well from the stimuli from external and internal, the mental noises. So, it can be anywhere, whether I am in the room, whether I’m with crowd. The question is, how can we use silence to align, to shift, to transform ourselves? Just look into these two components.
The first component is on communication. When silence is used in our conversation right now? *A moment of pause* Just now when I am in silence after asking my question, in terms of presentations in terms of counselling as well it works, because, it creates that short intervals so it creates attention for the brain and allow us to settle down and started to reflect instead of a constant consumption of stimuli.
That’s one way or the other way is what we called “awkward silence” where you find silence awkward when there’s silence throughout the conversations, or even now. That’s very subjective and dependent on who, when, where, how. Studies found out that humans find it very unsettling if there is a silence up to 4 seconds and when it is applied on like presentations are counselling, sometimes the intervals is recommended to use from 3 seconds up to 5 seconds.It has a useful purpose, so there’s awkward silence and there’s comfortable silence as well. These people who are just being comfortable with silence because it allows us to reflect.
There are different kinds of silence like silence terms of coldness; silence in terms of forgetfulness where we forget what we say so we keep silence; when we want to like ignore or reject something or someone, we give them silence; and silence of not knowing what to say. There’re different types of reasons why we have silence to our conversations in communication wise, there’s free of silence as well.
The other type is called ‘oppression silence’, where we are restricted, not allowed to say anything, not allowed to express ourselves. For example, say our parents were fighting and as a children, we are not allowed to express, this is where we see the ‘keep quiet’ hand sign a lot. Have you ever experienced that? I myself experience since I was young, and it’s actually harmful in the longer term.
Another silent communication that I wish to address is called ‘silent treatment’, you might have experienced it, I have experienced it. I have given silent treatment as well as receiving silent treatment. Silent treatment is when we couldn’t get someone to respond to us, to even acknowledge us, to talk to us and it’s somehow it’s a sense of being ignored and being excluded. And it hurts. Being ignored activates the same area of the brain that activates physical pain, so it brings pain like what we experience physical pain. Being noticed is a joy, we are happy to be noticed, but being ignored is as powerful. And it can be a broader pattern of what we called emotional abuse, if it’s long-term. Because silent treatment was created in the prison back in hundred years before and it was used as a form of punishment for the prisoners instead of physical punishment. So that’s how ‘silent treatment’ this term is created. Just to put you aware of the different kind of silence in communication wise.
Let’s flip the coin, we want to look at silence in terms of practice.
In terms of practices, there are different types as well, there are many religions or even cultures that practice different kinds of silence. What are theses types of silence? I love how Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, coined this, he called it “the joy of silence” which is an empowered silence where we practice silence with a conscious intention. He also points out another term in Buddhism it’s called “thundering silence” where it is a practice for a longer period of time, weeks, months. Where it is able to re-energise, revitalise and heal ourselves, it transforms our reactions towards how we respond to things and people.
Let’s look at our different types of practices like in religion, there is this ‘monastic silence’ where in churches or temples they practice silence are in sacred sites, places and time where there is a scheduled time for silence. As well as Buddhism, there’s one we call it ‘noble silence’. There are different kinds of noble silence, silence in sangha where a group of people come together in a meditation hall and experience the depth of silence together.
That’s very beautiful. Because I remember the first time when I was so touched by the sound of the bell. The the bell in the temple when I was in Korea, when one hit the bell ‘gong’, as if it is replenishing my soul, I was instantly touched by the sound of the bell and tears are coming out from my eyes. “Ah, so this is how it feels like when you come home.” With that sense of feeling the bliss of silence.
We have restorative silence as well, where people go to sabbatical getaway, people take time off from the digital devices from people where people stay at certain places for some time. These are the types of silence I wish to share with you and to be aware of it. There is a saying, “silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.”
Now, let’s go to understanding ‘solitude’ which is very relatable to silence, somehow they are coined together- silence and solitude.
Today, I read and very interesting and mind opening article it’s called ‘The Spiritual Disciplines of Silence and Solitude” by Brett and Kate McKay. I will share the link of this article below so you can read more. What is solitude?
What is solitude to you? It is often coined and described the qualities of solitude as physical isolation, stillness, quiet, and social disengagement. The image that we have is the same as silence, being alone in mountains, in nature, getting away from people, from distractions. Somehow or rather, solitude it’s like a state of mind and heart instead of the place. It’s just like silence, you can be alone, you can be in your own world even though you are alone or even though you’re with other people, in a crowd. Brett and Kate Mckay actually put a lot of work mentioning that solitude is enhanced by silence and at the same time you can be surrounded by humans, man-made stimuli. We can experience loneliness throughout solitude but it doesn’t mean that when we are in solitude, you will experience loneliness.
I love this description- solitude is the intentional withdrawal from social engagement. Simple description of solitude.
Why is solitude so compelling? Humans are social animals and since the beginning of the tribe, where we lived in groups, we came together as a nomad group as one. So in each tribe, there is this social or society’s expectations and roles for everyone to play for the good of the tribe. So when one of them leaves the tribe, the chances of survival is low, so we have and we are connected with this collective consciousness and this collective thing created the tendency to follow each other, to be in a group, to be accepted. to be loved. It is because of the survival needs we have since a long time ago and it still applies now. When we are away from the tribe now, it gives us a thrill of solitude, like now I’m temporary out of this social construct, social expectations and roles, I affirm my individual identity, individual reality, thoughts, beliefs, feelings while we are all still connected, it’s just much more affirm on my personal identity. That is why it is so compelling and scary at the same time. We will talk about the fears and blocks towards silence and solitude on the other chapter, right now I just want to understand why and what is the benefits of solitude which is just like silence, for me.
One, we are able to be with ourselves, we are able to listen to our own voice, we are able to reorient, be align, to reflect on our purpose, our goals in life. As we listen, as we reorient, realign, we are able to enhance our personal relationships, first with ourselves and then with others as well.
One thing I like about solitude is also a liberation from a social construct, social reference on how we should live. To strengthen our own purpose, mission, beliefs. As we slow down, we prepare ourselves to get ready for another adventure, another challenge, a new chapter of life. It’s just how important as how food and sex are compel to us. but solitude and silence are more towards the psychology aspect which is also essential for us. For someone extroverts might need it less solitude and silence, for some introverts might need it more. But for both, silence is still a need for all of us.
In the coming chapters, we will be exploring on how silence are practiced in different cultures, in different religions, and different part of the world, as well as the scientific benefits of silence. That’s for next chapter and today is a small introduction about solitude. That’s for today, thank you for being here.
We will be practising silence together for 9 minutes and this time is the same. We want to focus on our breathing, we want to be comfortable with ourselves, being aware of our body Sensations from the top of the head to different parts of the body and to the foot. Just to be aware.
[Listen to guided silence starts at 21:16]
PS: Explore more: The Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude and Silence by BRETT AND KATE MCKAY