I have always been a hyperactive person. It’s tough for me to sit still. I need to read, do, watch, think, learn, draw, run, listen, cook, or… eat!
When I got to know my wife better (after 7 years of courtship, and a few years of marriage!), I discovered something amazing. She has the wondrous ability to be able to DO NOTHING! She can just sit there, and stare out the window. At first I didn’t get it. But now I know that she is gifted! She has a rare and remarkable ability - to be able to enjoy the golden sound of silence.
When I was in college (notice how I don’t say when I was ‘young’, as I believe I still am :-), we were a group of boys and girls. We hung out really often. Sometimes, after a period of intense banter, there would be a short spell of absolute silence. Sometimes awkward, but mostly it was just that everyone had run out things to say. There have been multiple times when my wife and I have gone out for a long drive, or a nice meal, and not spoken a word to each other. And yet these have been some of our best times together! That is where the term ‘the golden sound of silence’ came into my being. At that time it was just funny and amusing.
My father pointed something out to me recently. He said our kids (my son and daughter) are always doing something - playing, chatting, listening to stories, watching TV, eating. If not, they are sleeping. There are no periods of awake silence.
And then he told me something very interesting. He asked me ‘Do you know when the brain actually grows and develops the most?’ In his typical style he let me attempt a few answers, and then he announced ‘we grow when we are in silence’.
As any good engineer + MBA would, I beckoned the all knowing ‘Google’ search engine to do my own research. This is what I stumbled upon…
For the first time ever, in 2013 scientists at the Duke University have discovered the positive effect of silence on our brain. ‘Neurogenesis’ is the process of creating new neurons in our brain. Neurogenesis creates a ‘pool’ of draft neurons in our brain. The brain can then recruit neurons whenever it needs basis on how much thinking needs to be done.
Think of it as a cake shop, where ‘plain’ cakes are continuously produced in the backend. Whenever there is a customer, the salesperson can just pick up up a plain cake and apply the flavour of icing as required by the customer. Computer industry or sports people can think of it as ‘the bench’!
In their paper titled ‘Is Silence Golden?’, the researchers studied the brains of adult mice as they were exposed to sounds like white noise, baby mice calls, Mozart, and also silence for two hours each day. Startlingly, they found that only silence produces neurogenesis in the Hippocampus on a long term basis! The brains of the mice were creating new brain cells in response to silence! The study showed that contrary to our understanding, silence is not just ‘absence of sound’. Silence is indeed its own unique kind of sound! Hence the term ‘the golden SOUND of silence’.
Silence has long been a key spiritual practice in Buddhism and several other systems. Science, as usual is about 1400 years late! But better late than never.
I’m experimenting with this golden sound of silence in my life. Im attempting to create 2 - 3 minute long breaks of silence after every 60 minutes of working. I’m attempting to create 5 - 10 minutes periods of silent ‘lingering’ a couple of times a day. Eyes closed or open, but no music, no reading, certainly no TV (or youtube), and no active thinking. Staring is perfect.. ideally at nature and not at your neighbour or any other object of your attention!
Action is absolutely necessary. But, I find that ‘silence’ helps me to make more sense of the action.
It helps me to choose the ‘direction’ of the action.
It helps me to build my ‘emotional reservoir’.
All the best to you if you wish to conduct your own ‘silence’ experiments.
If you are in the mood for some play, HERE are some silent games for children of all ages to try out!
is another really cute silent game. You will love this kid. And you can try this little activity too.
If you want to dig deeper here are some references from research in neuroscience that inspired this letter:
1. Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Imke Kirste.
2. The Stark beauty of silence. Justine Wang.
Had a lovely time putting this together. May you also learn to enjoy the golden sound of silence every now and then.
In friendship and peace,