I was called to silence 16 years ago when, while walking the shores of a Cape Cod beach and nearly on a whim, I decided to set aside the following day and go without talking. This step back from the noise and busyness of my days proved so instructive and restful, I wanted to repeat the experience. Since then, on the first and third Mondays of every month, without exception, I have practiced silence for 24-hour periods.
That first day, when I'd told two friends about my decision to go a day without speech, both reacted with the same words: "How radical." Struck by the coincidence of their responses—after all, this was a day of nonspeech, not a divorce or career change—I looked up "radical" in the dictionary and learned that it comes from the Latin word radicalis, and means to go to the root of something. I dismissed the notion, seriously doubting whether one day of silence could get to the root of anything. But this simple act has altered my life and become my greatest teacher—testing, tempering, and healing me in ways I could not have foreseen when I began. It offers me peace and solace in a world in which these qualities are hard to come by.
The stillness of these days creates space, allowing me to rest, to reflect rather than react, and to think about what matters. Silent time has fostered a better connection to nature, and to myself and others. In quiet, I am more attentive to ordinary moments and thus am open to the extraordinary.
There was a time when natural periods of stillness were woven into the fabric of our days as we raked leaves, ironed, washed dishes, rocked a sleepy child. Today, we are surrounded by noise, a clamor that is exacerbated by technology. I believe it negatively affects our health and spirit, much the way that scientists say sound pollution in our oceans drowns out the songs that whales and dolphins use for communication and orientation. And I wonder, if our inner song is deadened, how do we orient ourselves? How do we communicate? How do we keep from getting lost?
Recently, I again looked up "radical" and this time noticed a definition I had overlooked: "forming a basis or foundation." Silence has formed a foundation for me by providing the time and fertile space in which to reflect on the kind of life I want to have and the center from which to live it. It has indeed proved to be the quietest of revolutions. It has taught me to listen, and in listening, I hear my life's song.
Experience the restorative power of silence in these simple ways.
- Invite your family to join you in eating a meal in silence.
- Take a one-day sabbatical from email, phones, radio, and TV.
- Find a labyrinth and walk it in silence.
- Commit to a day without speech. Prepare family and friends ahead of time so they know what to expect.
- For one day, perform household or gardening chores in silence.
- Spend a few quiet hours alone in nature.
Anne LeClaire is a novelist and the author of Listening Below the Noise.