Overcoming the fear of silence
I’ve overcome some big challenges in my life, but it appears none bigger than surviving five days at a silent retreat in Bali…or at least that’s what the response I’ve received would suggest.
Friends and family have flocked to hear the heroic tales of this epic adventure, with a mixture of admiration as to how I survived, and bewilderment that this terrible torture was actually self-inflicted.
I’ve shared the stories of bravery as I embraced the notion of doing absolutely nothing, and seen people marvel at my incredible self-mastery, remaining in silence ‘even when no-one was around’, leaving many people shaking their heads and remarking that ‘there’s no way they could have done that.’
So what has occurred to make us so terrified of silence?
I’d always assumed it was something we were born with, but after this conversation with my good friend in Lithuania, I’ve come to realise that for me this is a learned behaviour — a realisation I’ve found unbelievably empowering and liberating, and I hope it is for you too.
As I shared my fear with her she asked me three simple questions that have completely shifted my mindset.
“Why would you feel uncomfortable in silence? Do you have something to say?” she asked?.
“No, not necessarily,” I replied.
“Does the other person have something to say?” she continued.
“No, not necessarily.” I smiled.
“Well then why would you feel this discomfort,” she laughed.
It hit me. This wasn’t part of my DNA at all. This was part of me, and the narrative I was telling myself as I projected my fears onto the other person.
The more I sought to relieve these moments from awkward suffering, the more I became convinced that this awkwardness actually existed.
Now this isn’t to say I’ve never used silence as a tool. It was one of the most critical techniques I was taught when interviewing athletes as people’s natural desire to fill the space ensures the interviews go so much deeper — but I’ve never felt as much comfort with the thought of sitting in silence as I did after this moment.
I’ve since been trying to embrace the tension and become more comfortable allowing the silence to sit and the impact has been profound, with conversations going deeper, longer, and enabling more difficult conversations to evolve, which previously would have been laughed off and remained at a surface level — a safe space, but an impossible space to impact real change.
There’s no doubt I still feel the discomfort every time the conversations falls flat, but I’m resisting the urge to speak, to be heard, to shift the awkwardness and instead just focusing on remembering the advice my friend gave me:
“Do you actually have something to say?….No?”
“Well then why on earth do you feel this discomfort?”
And every time, the conversation eventually continues and in a much deeper and more intimate place than where it left off.
I’d love to hear your journey with silence. It’s a constant challenge for me and your insight might just be the tip that helps me stay on course.
Thankyou so much for reading, I look forward to connecting with you on this topic.