On April Fool’s Day, six years ago, I decided to carry out an unusual human experiment – to go into voluntary lockdown in silence alone. Bags packed, off I went into silence and isolation with no idea how I would survive or what would happen. Cut off from daily life, friends, family, the news and internet, not even a career in bond trading and finance could prepare me for the challenge ahead.
Locked away in an 800-year-old castle in Northern Italy, supplies in the cupboard and a weekly food delivery, I experienced the full monty of sadness, joy, loneliness, contentment, laziness and infinite energy. Towards the end of my silence experience, I even began to forget if certain words existed.
The silence lasted for 300 days.
Over the past year, we have been seriously challenged by never-ending lockdowns and loss of freedom, so how can we stay positive and use this opportunity to find contentment and freedom inside? Sitting for 15 minutes silently each day is a start.
Like it or not, when we are isolated (alone or with others) we have to face ourselves. We have to face the result of the choices we have made and face our naked thoughts alone. My experience of silence and seclusion forced me to confront boredom and loneliness with the distractions of daily life switched off as has happened to many of us in lockdown.
In Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, the famous psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor cites the importance of having a purpose no matter our situation. When events are out of our control, by accepting life (no matter how tough) as it is today, we can then decide to make the best of the moment and work towards optimising our situation no matter the odds. By grabbing hold of the mind, we can choose to ignore the negative chit-chat and fears. Instead, we can create a positive outcome. Our present has been determined by our past and our future will be determined by our actions today.
We can learn so much from people who have a knack of using their time efficiently. Modern day examples include two fine young men, the Collison brothers from Ireland who created Stripe, the rival to PayPal. Patrick Collison recently said that he has “no time to watch TV” and admitted that living in the middle of nowhere meant they were ‘forced’ to find their own interests. When I was in silence I didn’t miss TV at all or the internet. On analysis if we waste 80 hours watching TV per month and another 80 hours aimlessly surfing the internet, we are losing nearly 2,000 hours per annum. Instead, we can use this time to rediscover our core values, analyse truthfully our level of happiness and contentment, recharge the batteries, make changes, rethink or learn something new.
How We Can Boost our Positivity with 15 minutes of Silence
Silence is powerful. When we stand silently together, for example, at a funeral or on Remembrance Day, even for one minute, we experience the togetherness, the gratitude and the respect deserved by those we are remembering. Silence is a time-out to reflect or just keep still. Shortly after my 300 Days of Silence ended, I was asked to give a TEDx talk. To demonstrate the benefits of silence the ‘talk’ was delivered in silence. A room full of strangers united in silence, meditating and contemplating on how we can improve ourselves and the lives of others around us.
The purpose of silence is to go into the space that exists beyond our thoughts and tap into our true nature of being to expand our consciousness – our compassion, our kindness, our positive energy, our love and creative power. Silence can also trigger clarity, peace and positive ideas.
Find a comfy chair and sit silently for 15 days for 15 minutes each day. Continue. No music. No phone. No distraction. Just SIT and BE. See it as a necessary personal time-out or even try it en famille. When thoughts come thick and fast ignore them! Most of our thoughts are repetitive, negative and imaginary. So what! Why pay attention? It helps to choose the same time of day.
If during our silence we mindfully start to take control of the the mind, we can eliminate the inner junk, the self-criticism, the doubts and fears whirling around inside of us, so much louder when shut away. Self-analysis is not self-criticism. We should be kind to ourselves.
Silence teaches us many things. In my ‘silence challenge’, as soon as I became the witness to the stream of negative thoughts, I realised that by just watching without reaction eventually they pass. I observed how we give our power away too easily to others by over-reacting. I also felt really grateful for the simple things: the beauty of nature, fresh air, fresh fruit and vegetables – our awareness is heightened when we don’t speak.
Daily silence can create the space for us to address some of the key questions that arose during my 300 Days of Silence:
What are we really doing in our lives? What do we value? What is our purpose in life? What is the root cause of our happiness and unhappiness?
Can we learn how to ignore that inner voice that too easily becomes our constant enemy and instead embrace the inner voice that can become our closest friend?
When we feel sad and lonely, can we muster a smile and be grateful for what we have compared to others in far worse circumstances?
If we all address and contemplate deeply the answers to some of these questions at a time of crisis, then we can really make decisions and start to be who we want to be now.
Enjoy your silence!