The Importance of Silence

There is little that I love to do more than listen to my own voice.

(And, yes, I am a pathological narcissist. Diagnosed and everything. And, yes, I am watching many of you nod your heads and say “that makes so much sense,” right now.)

I enjoy discourse and given my brain is constantly processing ideas and thoughts, verbalizing those thoughts often helps me work through them. So silence is something that for most of my life was non-productive.

Always had music playing. Or the TV, or sat in a noisy coffee shop. Never much sat at my desk, constantly chatted with others, was extremely vocal in meetings. Silence was something that I abhorred and avoided.

Then a couple of years ago, I decided to see how long I could be quiet. After all, if I am good at making noise, I should be amazing at not making any at all. For thirty hours, I said nothing. Of course, this was after watching a TED talk by John Francis, who was silent for 17 years.

It was amazing. Everything slowed down. The world seemed to create an order than in my noisy haste was hidden behind spoken words and incessant iPod beats. I realized that I was missing, just missing, by not being silent.

My friend Ben Casnocha, who along with folks like Sam Lessin, Joe Greene, Dave Morin and a few others represent the new true intellectuals (the Thinkers and Doers) of our time, decided to see how a 10 day silent meditation retreat would affect him.

On the eighth day, after 80 hours of meditation and silence, Ben became aware of a mental clarity he had never experienced and was so different from everything.

I became meta aware of this mental clarity. It’s how I imagine it feels to “wake up” in the middle of your dreams and control them. I directed my attention away from my body to a random thought. And then brought it right back. Then away. Then back. All by choice. It was a striking difference from what often happened during my meditation sits (and during life in general): the mind inviting hundreds of random thoughts to derail a moment of concentration.

Kevin Owocki, Founding CTO of Ignighter, was so inspired by Ben’s post, he did something similar and wrote about it in his post Beginner’s Mind.

As an engineer, my mind is often spinning out of control, and I’ve always been inspired by the idea that I could control the quality of my mental experience internally — as opposed to being at the whim of the uncontrollable circumstances exterior to me.

How is it that a little bit of silence seems to have such a positive effect? I am not a doctor, so medically, I have no fucking clue, but I know it does.

And I think I know why.


Most of us strive to be in complete control of our lives. We learn that to control everything around us, creates a sense of security and safety that is hard to come by. Yes, to develop strong relationships (professionally and personally) one has to learn to give some of that control (and yes, for some of us narcissists, thats just pretty darn hard), but by choosing to be silent; by choosing to be in a silent environment, we are wrestling back some of that control that world works so hard to take from us.

Every Saturday morning, a bunch of entrepreneurs who live in the peninsula get together for donuts and coffee. (If you live south of SF and north of Palo Alto[ish], and want to come send me a note via Facebook, and I’ll add you to the group.) My friend Arin, who was started the donut tradition with me, was launching his startup, Well, the following week.

In the midst of the discussion of all the things that he was managing as part of his launch – from press to melting servers to motivating his team – I suggested he take 5 minutes to meditate.

“There is an importance to silence. To having everything around you, and in your brain, just disappear. It forces you to be clear. It forces you to choose the thoughts that matter. It forces you to listen. It forces you to be present.”

Now being bipolar, (wow, you now know all my mental issues. Next week, daddy issues!) I lived for the mania, pre-management. For the moments when I could work faster and better than everyone else. Silence was scary, as it was the beginning of the other side of the cycle, depression.

Yet, now that I embrace the silence; seek it out, and even control it, I relish the clarity it brings.

Who knew that something as simple as shutting up would become so important?


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