I remember as a kid my mum told me, repeatedly, that I could probably talk under water. I also distinctly remember being one of those ‘Why?’ kids, who had to know the answer to every question that passed through my brain. By the time I got to the ripe old age of 16, I was pretty sure that I had learned everything there was to know, well certainly more than my parents (durrrrh). I was probably like a lot of teenagers I suspect. My twenties were then filled with opinion after opinion – mine of course, since no one else knew what they were talking about and if they would just come around to my way of thinking the world would be a better place. Thankfully I have become a LOT more self aware since then, but my recent comfort zone challenge got me thinking about how much further I still had to go.
While I was away on retreat recently one of the yoga instructors led a ‘silent walk’ before breakfast one morning. To begin we all took a vow of silence and then followed our guide trustingly into the wilderness of the Gold Coast Hinterland. After the walk I spoke to someone who had been on a silent retreat in Thailand a few years ago, where not only did she not speak to anyone, there was no communication at all. Not even eye contact was allowed. That got me thinking ‘Could I be silent, even for one day?’
Of course, I could have just ‘gone bush’ somewhere for a day and removed myself from civilisation completely, but I decided that would be too easy. So of course I suggested to my most extroverted friend that she should join me – this is the same friend who when travelling together a number of years ago I told “You know, we don’t have to talk all the time”. Luckily Sam is a bit of an adventurer and pretty much up for anything, especially personal growth related, so she agreed and we set a date to do the Coogee to Bondi walk and stop for silent brekky together.
I’ve known Sam for over 10 years now, and I consider her to be one of my best friends, but as soon as I walked into her house (unannounced of course) there was this palpable feeling of awkwardness. We kind of waved at each other, hugged and then motioned that we should leave. As we walked down the hill and into Coogee the awkwardness continued to hang around, like a bad fart. Normally at this stage we would have been chatting non-stop about all manner of topics, with varying degrees of importance. Around 10 minutes into it I was still feeling very uncomfortable and I started regretting embarking on this venture. How long can this discomfort go on? I thought. But I found that as soon as I stopped focusing on it the awkwardness faded and then disappeared completely.
I’ve done the Coogee Bondi walk a number of times but this time around I really took notice of so much more. I guess you could say that I was being more mindful – I noticed other people more. I noticed the vibrant colour of the water, the cliffs of Tamarama, birds in the sky. I heard a lot more too: people talking, waves crashing, but most I noticed how many thoughts I had going through my head and how often I felt the need to verbalise them. It really made me think about how inconsequential a lot of what I talk about is and how a lot of the time I just verbalise it to fill a silence or because I want to have my opinion heard. On reflection I feel that perhaps I still very much over-value my opinions.
Don’t get me wrong, I love people with strong convictions. However, while everyone has opinions, I am starting to think that opinions do not make you who you are. To me, who I am is also the way in which I share my opinions, how I listen to and try to understand other people’s opinions and the action I take to act upon my opinions. Also, some opinions are more important than others and some really aren’t even worth thinking, let alone verbalising.
Another benefit of not verbalising every thought and opinion that passed through my brain was that I listened to other people a lot more, and importantly allowed them time to think about what they wanted to say. I found this with my husband, but mostly with my daughter, who is only 3 years old. By me not speaking, it allowed her the time to find the words she wanted without me finishing her sentence. As those of you with toddlers will know, having a conversation with a three year old can be wonderful but frustrating, but not having the words to explain how you feel must be even more frustrating, and possibly a little distressing for them.
Holding back my opinions gives me an opportunity to get more information about a subject or situation and gives me the flexibility to change my mind. I notice on social media especially, everyone is so eager to give their opinion about something, anything, that they comment and then think. And generally speaking because no one wants to admit that they were wrong, they stay steadfast in their opinion even after receiving information to the contrary. Politicians frustratingly do this all the time.
So, while I don’t intend on being silent forever, I am going to think more about what thoughts I do and don’t share and most importantly I am going to try to hold back opinion and listen more.
Have you ever tried being silent for a day? Do you think you could do it? I’m listening, so please share your thoughts below or on the Facebook group.
Ps. As a result of completing this challenge I’ve also added Vipassana meditation to my comfort zone challenge list. This involves sitting in one spot and meditating for 12 hours without any interaction with anyone. Even thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I guess that means I’m on the right track 🙂