Do you ever get tired of talking? Ever wish you could just shut TF up and be still for a little bit?
If you’re alive right now (and I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this) then chances are pretty good that you’ve more-than-once longed for peace and quiet, some time to be by yourself and just be.
Taking a deliberate vow of silence (VOS) is one way for you to carve out some quietude in a world full of noise. You probably don’t realize how much of it abounds – lawnmowers, weed eaters, blowers, trucks, car horns, sirens, barking dogs – in your daily life. Persistent noise, it’s been shown, activates the human stress response. And it causes symptoms of PTSD in birds. Personally, it makes me want to live in the ground, in a Hobbit house in New Zealand. But even that’s a pipe dream because here’s a sad fact: There is now no place on Earth where you can find complete silence. Even in the most remote of places, you’re bound to hear the rumbling of a far-off logging truck, or the engines of a jet plane overhead. Or the distant echos of that damn co-worker who never stops talking.
“But I love to talk!” you insist. No doubt, and being the talker you are, you’re probably not the best listener. Shutting up for a little while makes you stop thinking about what you’re going to say and allows you to – gasp – actually listen to what someone else is saying. But becoming a more sensitive conversationalist isn’t the greatest benefit of a VOS.
With a VOS you hear something you almost never get to hear: yourself.
Going speechless is a great way for you to connect with yourself; it’s a way to become introspective and think about the things you need to, yet probably avoid. And if you’ve already answered all of life’s big questions, then a VOS is a wonderful way to experience the natural world around you in a way you don’t or can’t when you’re living life full-tilt.
Having taken many vows of silence in my life I can tell you they are truly pauses that refresh. The longest I’ve gone without talking is four days, but I find even one day works wonders. You can try 24-hours or 24 days. John Francis, author of “The Ragged Edge of Silence,” decided he would take a vow of silence for a day, and didn’t speak again for 17 years.
Ready to try it? Here are some basics to help you plan:
Alert people. If you’re a big yakker and you suddenly stop offering your opinion on every single thing, people are going to think you need a medical intervention. Let your friends and family know that you will deliberately not be speaking for X amount of time. We really do want to avoid an involuntary commitment to a mental hospital.
Plan ahead. If your life includes living with other people, taking a VOS can be tricky. Even If you tell your peeps this is what you’re doing, they’re going to try to coax you to speak, selfish people that they are. If you can manage it, go away somewhere, or wait until they’re away from you. And if you can manage a getaway in nature, all the better.
Create some cards. “I am on a vow of silence,” is the obvious one. Some people will invite one-sided conversations when they take their VOS (I don’t, but that’s just me). In that case you can have a card that says, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Go ahead, try to make me laugh.”
Make it a no-brainer. You can actually go places where a vow of silence is required. Problem solved!
Disconnect. Using your VOS time to catch up on Instagram or Pinterest or clear out your e-mail box is a total waste of this valuable exercise. Communicating on social media is considered “talking.” Just turn it off. Better yet, just get it the hell away from you so you’re not tempted. Out of sight, out of mind.
Taking a VOS at work is also a tricky proposition. When I was in high school, I had a math teacher who decided he would teach a week of math lessons without saying a word. He also told no-one his plan in advance, which resulted in some serious mayhem. Students were confused and upset and the principal didn’t know what to make of it. We thought this semi-weird teacher had finally gone completely nuts; he thought he was making a point. Naturally, I blame him for my utter incompetence with mathematics, but that’s beside the point. It wasn’t the most appropriate context for him to experiment with a VOS when it affected so many people – and his reputation. Tread lightly here.
Experiment with alternate forms of communicating but try not to write notes. That’s still a form of “talking.” When I took my vow of silence on a trip in California, I wondered how I was going to order food in a restaurant. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. I simply pointed at the items on the menu, nodded when the waitress confirmed the order, and gave her the thumbs up when she asked how everything was. I don’t think she even noticed that I never said a word.
Now, there are exceptions I don’t need to point out (or maybe I do). If you are in a life or death situation, you should speak. If you need to call 9-11, do so. If you get pulled over by the cops, they’re not going to be charmed by your foray into quiet and introspection. Two little words -- “Sorry Officer” – are not going to mar your otherwise perfect record of keeping your mouth shut.
In the end, this is not a contest with yourself, it’s an experience unlike any other. When you’ve committed to being silent, you can finally tune into and hear the many layers of sound all around you. It’s truly extraordinary.
If you do take the bold step of taming your talk (or if you’ve already done it), I’d love to hear about it. Please keep us posted, but only AFTER your vow of silence is complete. Now, go out there and shut TF up!