Silence is a theme I have been interested in since the first day of my counselling studies. These days, during quieter hours of lockdown, I am picking up books from my shelf on this very topic to explore it in more detail.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this little book by the Norwegian explorer, Erling Kagge. He dedicated this book to silence which dominates the extreme explorations like his fifty days of a walk to the South Pole in complete solitude.
When we face such extreme moments of social isolation – and many of us do these days, let’s face it – it can be difficult to face the silence. As Kagge fairly points out early on in his book, this can be uncomfortable because it also means we need to face ourselves. And let’s be honest, in today’s reality most of us are too busy to make time for an honest look at our deepest feelings, fears, hopes, disappointments…It is much easier to switch Netflix on.
“Chatter and other noises can easily become defence mechanisms to help avoid the truth.”Erling Kagge
However, after a closer examination of the nature of silence, we might just realise that it is very rich. Silence is not empty, nor quiet. It allows space and time for thinking – which in 2021 is a precious commodity. Not only that it helps us rest and think deeply, but it also improves the quality of our attention. No wonder an explorer writes about it.
Awe, joy, appreciation of beauty and excellence (our VIA character strength of this month) are all positive strenghts. If we nurture allowing ourselves time to enjoy a sunset or a slow walk in the park, we slow down, calm down and ground ourselves in the reality. I think the same can be said about online browsing too: when enjoying the travel photos of our friends we have a choice: feel the fear of missing out or marvel at landscapes and moments we get to share with people we care about.
I love the photography in the book, the spacious moments of time. Gentle reminders that the silence is all around us, within us and can serve us too.
“Silence can be anywhere, anytime – it’s just in front of your nose.”Erling Kagge
Silence is very personal. In coaching and counselling, silences are crucial. Sensing, sharing, holing silences makes for a trusted therapeutic relationship. Exploring silences safely deepens that trust and helps the client to face parts of their silence that might be darker, more painful (especially in trauma and loss work). Respecting silences, addressing them or intuitively helping more anxious clients to fill up silences if that is what they need to feel safe can be very healing. Which is why in training we are asked to spend time with fellow students in silence looking at each other. We are also trained to ask the following question openly and congruently: “How is this silence for you right now?”
“Keep in mind that the silence you experience is different from that which others experience. Everyone possesses their own.”Erling Kagge
Holding silences of the other person can be powerful and is a sign of love and care. In a well functioning relationship the power of silences, their lightness and their warmth is the sign of trust, love and care. I remember hours and hours of travels with my Dad in our car without a single word spoken and yet it felt like a lifelong conversation of two deeply connected souls. I have learned so much from those parental silences! We can also sense when things shift when those silences become heavy, strange, anxious or uncomfortable and so it is worth developing ways to address those shifts. Gentle verbal prompts or simple gestures. Here, in the U.K. we would put a kettle on and share a tea. In Poland, we would bake a cheesecake. In Hungary open a bottle of home made red wine. If alone, we would run a hot bath and give ourselves a good hug. Because if we cannot work with silences, how can we work with words?
“If your partner doesn’t understand you when you are silent, mightn’t it be even harder for them to understand you when you are speaking?”Erling Kagge
I would also like to add that oftentimes we like to blame digital technologies for the lack of silence in our lives. So maybe it’s worth exploring what can be done about it. How can we silence our devices? How can we manage the notifications, calls and other incoming signals in a way which makes digital technologies helpful, not distracting?
I take my phone to the allotment or for walks and listen to audiobooks. But on a day which is already noisy, I switch off, put it on silent and enjoy the sound of birds on the way. I take the phone out to take a few photos to share with friends later (I like to invite people to the bliss of my allotment plot), but then I put it away again.
We need to stop assuming that it is impossible. It might take time, effort and a bit of planning, but it’s possible to live life with rich silences facilitated by smart use of technology. We just need to use tech intentionally.
I encourage you to design your reality with silent moments of being. You never know what treasures lay in your silences.