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Is Silence Golden?

October 17, 2018

by Luan Schooler 

A 2014 study done at the University of Virginia found that 67% of men and 25% of women preferred receiving an electrical shock to being left alone with their thoughts. In the study, participants were left alone for fifteen minutes in a sparsely furnished room without phones, pens, or distractions of any sort. There was, however, a button that participants could push that would give them an unpleasant electrical shock. Each had experienced the shock beforehand, and all said they would pay money to avoid being shocked again. Yet when left alone for 15 minutes, many were more averse to their thoughts than to pain.

Throughout history, people have pursued silence in search of life’s meaning. Whether wandering in the desert or sitting on a mountaintop, religious and philosophical seekers have used silence as a tool for unlocking Mystery. Today, however, surrounded by noise and conditioned to an ever-quickening flood of stimulation, have we become so dependent on distraction that we can no longer simply sit with our thoughts?

Possibly. When was the last time that you sat and thought for even ten minutes, without reaching for your phone, making a list, or leaping up to do something? It’s not easy to be quiet, yet the idea of silence continues to beckon. While few of us are willing to go it alone in the desert or a mountain cave, many of us long for a quiet space to examine our lives, to gain some clarity, to find some peace.

Over the last decade, there have been new social activities developed that center on silence. In some cities there are regular silent reading parties, where participants meet up in a bar to read quietly for an hour or two and then chat among the group. In London, Shhh Dating offers silent singles nights, telling patrons, “we find you can make more of a connection with others without words (to begin with). That's why we've created a unique dating format with flirting games, eye gazing, and no talking.” Silent Disco Parties offer all the dancers wireless headphones so they can hear the music, but for observers the party is sound free (except perhaps for the shifting of dancers’ feet).

Silent retreats have been around for many years. Many have a religious or spiritual grounding, but others are decidedly secular and focus on health, pleasure and individual growth. Most include yoga, meditation classes, and opportunities to spend time in nature. Accommodations and meals range from modest to elegant, priced accordingly. All promise a relaxing, restorative, profound experience.

"Prolonged silence lets practitioners recharge from the stresses of daily life, but the practice of silence and its intention goes beyond relaxation. Outward silence shines a light on the parts of your inner life you don’t usually experience, teaching you to acknowledge and process even your most uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This practice of observing your inner landscape can teach greater stress tolerance and emotional balance that lasts long after the retreat is over."

“Why You Should Go on a Silent Retreat” 

Since 2013, silent tourism is the hot new luxury trend, offering getaways centered on ‘digital detox’ and personal growth. Exquisitely designed spas offer enticing hot rock massages, sitting/walking/eating meditation, yoga classes, and more, all designed to help you find ‘an easeful relationship with life’. In an interview with Condé Nast Traveler, Alex Glasscock, the CEO and founder of The Ranch – a kind of luxury boot camp in Malibu – said, “A calm and silent mind is the new luxury and people are actively seeking this opportunity.” With rates ranging from $3,900 for a four day visit to $30,000 for a four week “Total Transformation” silence truly is golden at The Ranch.

Our relationship with silence is clearly complicated. On the one hand, we’d rather have an electrical shock, but on the other, we consider it a luxury item. What does this say about the way that we’ve constructed our lives and social frameworks? What are we afraid to find in silence? Should quiet be a luxury? Perhaps we should all take a few minutes (but less than fifteen, please!) to quietly ponder. 


Purchase tickets to Small Mouth Sounds  here.

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