January 9, 2020

The Day of Silence: Did It Work?



Well, that was interesting. My day of silence has come and gone. On January 2nd, my wife and I agreed to try something neither of us had ever done before: a day without conversation, cell phones, texts, computers, television, or music. We would leave the house only to take our dog to the park (with no car radio playing!)

The first thing we learned was how easy it is to communicate without talking. Gestures, shrugs, hand motions, and pointing works nearly as well as speech. Occasionally, we had to write each other notes, but that wasn't against the spirit of the day, so no problem. 

Quiet is powerful. It has a force that we rarely experience anymore. When all the extraneous electronic chatter and noises that make up a normal day are eliminated, I swear I could hear my mind whirring. I know I could hear my breathing, steady and controlled, every few seconds, filling my ears with its rhythm. I don't know if this qualifies as meditating, but there was a definite separation from my normal way of living.

During one of my times on the back patio, sounds that are there all the time became part of my day. As I focused on what was breaking the stillness I heard birds trilling and calling each other, airplanes high up in the sky and smaller ones from a nearby municipal airport. Laughter from a few kids home on winter break, my neighbor coughing on his back porch, someone using an electric saw, the barking of small dogs inside a house somewhere nearby.

The ticking of a small clock on the patio, and tires screeching as a car took a corner too quickly. The leaves on the trees in the backyard were swaying gently in a mild breeze, making a subtle rustling noise until a delivery truck rumbled down the street in front of my house covering up the sound for a moment or two. Silence is never completely silent.

Betty and I pulled the portable fire pit from a side yard, threw in some newspaper, shredder waste paper, and a few scraps of wood. Lighting the pile, we quietly sat by the warmth, thinking our own thoughts. When the blaze died out, we nodded to each other, signalling our intention to go back into the house.

We managed to stick to our silent, unplugged plan very well. Betty did receive some texts that had to be answered. We agreed to watch one favorite TV show while eating dinner. Otherwise, the time passed with nothing but our thoughts, some books, and time in the backyard. While I shouldn't speak for her, I think Betty found the experiment worthwhile and, with a few modifications, one we'd like to repeat.


I found this both restful and energizing. Going a full day without checking the phone or blog, having no music to break the stillness or no television to distract made me much more aware of my surroundings and what happens while simply paying attention.  

At the same time, I filled a few pieces of paper with ideas for this blog, things I want to add and subtract from my daily schedule, and reinforcement of where my shifting spiritual search is leading. I finished two books. My thoughts started flowing, recharging my mental battery with positive energy. Time didn't seem to flow either more slowly or more quickly; I just wasn't really paying attention to a clock.

Will I (and Betty) have another day of silence? Did it make itself valuable enough to repeat? Yes, with a few modifications:

* Quiet instead of silence. We both felt there were times when we wanted to share thoughts and ideas. It would be a mistake to miss the chance to discuss something important just because talking is banned.

* Some structure to the day. In addition to normal breaks for meals, we felt the experience would be heightened by allowing us to do similar things at the same time. Especially with the ability to talk with each other, if we read, worked on our creative activities, and spent time outside while with each other, the chance to share something would be enhanced. We wouldn't find ourselves always in separate rooms, doing different things.

* Allow for "work" projects if we find that restorative. Betty likes to do things that require physical effort. Expending energy calms her and helps her manage some of the pain that are a part of her daily life. I could oil paint and still be quiet. Working, even on something that might be called a chore, should not detract from the experience.

* Plan on repeating once a month, but have the quiet day end at dinner time. Ten or eleven hours seems to be enough to decompress and establish a break in the normal routine of our days. We both enjoy watching favorite TV shows together in the evening and I will usually have a period of guitar practice. To prevent those things from happening makes the day seem almost punitive, rather than enjoyable.

So, was this time of silence and unplugging worth it? Absolutely. I think of it as a welcome detox from my normal routine and disconnection from the world, if even for just a day. 


25 comments:

  1. Ken and I used to meditate separately on our ow time schedules, but the past couple of years we make a point to do it together now.It enhances the meditation so much and also bonds us in a spiritual way that we enjoy. While we also go to our different areas of the house to work on our own hobbies,often..we signed up for an online drawing class that we sit down and do together a couple fo times a week.. it's so different to do it together! Your experiment yielded a lot of insights!

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    1. What we missed during Silence Day was time together. So, by changing the "rules" a bit I think we will accomplish what is important, but allow us to share things that pop up during the day.

      Online drawing class together...interesting!

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  2. I think a day being unplugged from all devices and the media would do us all good in these troubled times and everything you posted about your experience backs up the benefits of doing so. Thanks for sharing your experiment.

    Your idea of modifying the day of silence to allow discussions is worth trying next time. I learned the hard way because of my husband's stroke how much you can mourn in depth conversations. Being unplugged for a day but allowing conversation might encourage more in depth sharing and I wouldn't give that opportunity up for all the world. We are all only a heart beat away from losing that with loved ones. Maybe modify the no talking rule to no normal chit-chat, only discuss literature or ideas or concepts that aren't part of normal daily living?

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    1. For the next time, we are thinking that any conversation should be based on something we are reading or experiencing at the moment. Yes, idle chit-chat wouldn't really fit the intent of the day.

      Seize the day...your point about not knowing when something might end is worth emphasizing.

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  3. Well, I know how easy it is to communicate without talking, because my wife knows what I'm going to say before I say it. (That's not just a crack, it's true a lot of the time). Anyway, it's an interesting experiment, and I'm glad you found it valuable, but it's probably one we won't do. But the idea of an unplugged day is something we might try.

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    1. Betty is a strong sentence-finisher since she knows what I am likely to say. That comes from 43 years together.

      Tip your toes in the water, Tom. Unplug for a day and see how you react.

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  4. Hi Bob! Congratulations! I think it's great that you tried something you'd always been curious about and did it together too. My husband Thom and I have never done a day of silence although we do meditate together for 15 minutes every single day...we've been doing that now for nearly 10 years. Helpful in so many ways. But silence? We're both very vocal and talk to each other all the time so that would be a challenge! And like you said to Tom S. --when we've been together for so long (43 years like you two) we can (and do) finish each others sentences all the time. Still something to consider for the year ahead. Thanks for the report! ~Kathy

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    1. The total silence felt strained and, ultimately, unnecessary to accomplish our goals. Having the TV off, no music, no computer or constant phone checking were the most important elements of the day.

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  5. Interesting observations. I know when I'm on silent retreat, the cook does (quietly) announce what she is serving at meals if it's something new - this retreat is at an inn with a gourmet cook, so no one complains. :-) Also, there is often harp music during a particular time, and we do group meditation every evening before bed. As for the rest of the time, we are encouraged to get outside, observe things and sounds around us, and generally do what enhances us. This often includes reading, writing, walking, drawing, etc. It's amazing how much more insightful my thoughts are when the noise is turned down

    I will say that when the silence is broken, the noise level at the first meal can be jarring. But it's different, I'm sure, with a spouse, and I think your idea of speaking at dinner makes sense. Finally, I was amazed at how much we all communicate without saying a word, and this was with several virtual strangers the first time. You can read personality in a near stranger in many cases.

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    1. One of the major pitfalls of constantly communicating by text, as so many do, is the inability to use verbal and nonverbal clues when in the presence of others. As you note, "I was amazed at how much we all communicate without saying a word." That form of connecting with someone is lost when we use an electronic device to keep everyone invisible.

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  6. Thank you for relaying your experience to us. I agree that the most important and impactful element of your day of silence was probably disconnecting from your electronic devices. I do that every once in a while but then experience the overload (especially of the unopened emails) when I turn them on again so I wonder if it was worth it. I like the few tweeks you've decided to make to your next day of silence.

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    1. The toughest part for me was not checking the blog for comments! Otherwise, I was fine without the other stuff for a day.

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  7. Thanks for the idea Bob. After reading about your experiment I decided to take Wednesday off from all new media and events of the day. But I just couldn't stay away from my Mac and blogging tools for that long (ha). The day proved to be more restful mentally than what I have had in some time. It seems my brain is constantly spinning lately and to force it to slow down once in a while is a good thing. Thanks again for the idea. I think I will do my version every Wednesday going forward.

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    1. Excellent! I did generate a few post ideas during the time my brain was supposed to be emptying, but that is OK. Part of the process seems to allow for increased creativity. Posting soon is a piece about a tree in my backyard! Apparently, anything is fair game.

      FYI..the last few times I have tried to leave a comment on RJ's Corner it has disappeared after WP forces me to sign in. I will try to remember to copy the comment before it is lost in the sign in process so I can paste it once Wpress agrees I do not have evil intent!

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    2. Yeah, I get into the same thing with Blogger on your site. It gives me three options 1)a Google login I haven't used in years 2)Anonymous - I don't like to leave msgs in that mode, or 3) to login with Name and URL. I choose the last method but then it sends me through a quiz of which pictures have xxx in them. After I pass the test it usually lets me post but sometimes it just resets everything. I guess Wordpress and Blogger just don't get along very well. (ha). Even with this reply I gotta take a test....so I better copy it now (ha)

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    3. Yep, I think Google and Word Press make us try to pick sides.

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    4. RJ, try previewing your comment on Blogger before publishing it and see if that helps.

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  8. Bob, thanks for sharing the results of your experience. To me, silence is a welcome companion but, in general, it is not accepted as such by today's society. Despite the solid support for meditation, I believe that many people are so uncomfortable with solitude and silence that they find them difficult to handle. Personally speaking, on more than one occasion, I've cut my list of errands short and headed back to the mountains (literally) because I've reached my limit regarding the number of people in town, the volume of music in stores and the noise and congestion caused by traffic. Silence can be restorative, and it seems like your experiment proved that to be true. Thanks for the very intriguing post!

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    1. I can certainly empathize with the public noise comment. Even my church feels compelled to play music behind a prayer, as if the words and thoughts themselves aren't important enough to keep our attention; music is required.

      I don't drive much during the traffic rush periods, but when I do I find myself getting tense and anxious to get off the road. Between the aggressive drivers, those talking on or looking at cell phones, and the general mayhem of big cars, big trucks, and school buses, I can't wait to pull into my garage.

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  9. Fun to read your reflections just before I head up to my cabin for some silent time in the forest. I like your modifications. The time, as you said, should be restorative, not punishing or rigid. When I'm at the cabin, silence is easy and natural since I there by myself, but I do occasionally speak to the dog. And I catch myself humming. Having silent time with a partner, in the city with all the electronics, is more of a discipline but sounds like it is a worthwhile one.

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    1. Well, the second person who can escape to the mountains! Your cabin is the perfect place to disconnect.

      We think the modifications will make the experience better. As long as the TV, computer, cell phone, and Spotify remain off from morning until evening the time will remain a nice break from normal.

      BTW, happy birthday, one day late!

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  10. Quiet is what I value most about my life living alone in the woods at the end of a rural dirt road. Our world is full of beautiful sights and sounds that we usually don't notice because our lives and brains are just too cluttered with noise.

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  11. Hi Bob. Interesting to hear about the results of your day of silence. Rob and I experience unplugging from media often when we go camping in our truck and camper. We tend to prefer exploring remote areas where there is no service, so we have days at a time where we can’t use our devices. On these trips, we do activities together much of the day, such as hiking, fishing, driving, setting up camp, and eating meals together. We often have great conversations! It’s funny that, even though we are are retired, when we are at home we spend much of our time in separate rooms doing different things. So I really value the closeness we have during our camping trips, with no media distractions. Without the internet, we also both spend a lot more time reading.

    Jude

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    1. Betty and I spend a far amount of a typical day in separate spaces doing different things. I liked the closeness when we traveled in the RV. It is pretty hard to feel separate in 200 sq. ft. for weeks at a time.

      Our next silent day is scheduled for mid February. I think we are both looking forward to it.

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