Across this 3-part special, Katie talks with Justin Zorn & Leigh Marz co-authors of Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. The book reveals how to go beyond the ordinary rules and tools of mindfulness. It’s a field guide for navigating the noise of the modern world—not just the noise in our ears but also on our screens and in our heads. Drawing on lessons from neuroscience, business, spirituality, politics, and the arts, Marz and Zorn explore why auditory, informational, and internal silence is essential for physical health, mental clarity, ecological sustainability, and vibrant community.
In part 1 we explore how to better navigate the noise of the modern world. Across the conversation, we discuss different interpretations of silence, what gets in the way of silence, the power of silence and how we can all benefit from it, how silence helped them to write this book, how to find pockets of silence in our everyday lives.
Leigh Marz is a faculty member at CRR Global and a collaboration consultant and leadership coach for major universities, corporations, and federal agencies. In addition, she is a long time student of pioneering researchers and practitioners of the ritualized use of psychedelic medicines in the West. In her professional work, she has led diverse initiatives, including a training program to promote an experimental mindset among teams at NASA and a decade-long cross-sector collaboration to reduce toxic chemicals in products, in partnership with Green Science Policy Institute, Harvard University, IKEA, Google, and Kaiser Permanente. Leigh lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and daughter.
Justin Talbot Zorn has served as both a policymaker and a meditation teacher in the U.S. Congress. A Harvard- and Oxford-trained specialist in the economics and psychology of well-being, Justin has written for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, and other publications. Along with Leigh, he confounded Astrea Strategies, a consultancy that bridges contemplation and action, helping leaders and teams envision and communicate solutions to complex challenges. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and three children.
For over 18 years, CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams, and practitioners on their journey to build stronger relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of Faculty and Partners, we connect, inspire, and equip change agents to shift systems, one relationship at a time
We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole.
KC – Katie Churchman
JZ – Justin Zorn
LM – Leigh Marz
[Intro 00:00 – 00:06]
KC – Hello and welcome back to the Relationship Matters podcast. We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity, to nature, to the larger whole. I’m your host, Katie Churchman, and over the next three episodes I’m talking with Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, co-authors of Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. The book, due to be released in May by Harper Collins Publishing, reveals how to go beyond the ordinary rules and tools of mindfulness. It’s a feel guide for navigating the noise of the modern world—not just the noise in our ears but also on our screens and in our heads. Drawing on lessons from neuroscience, business, spirituality, politics, and the arts, Marz and Zorn explore why auditory, informational, and internal silence is essential for physical health, mental clarity, ecological sustainability, and vibrant community. Leigh Marz is a faculty leader at CRR Global and a collaboration consultant and leadership coach for major universities, corporations, and federal agencies. In addition, she is a long time student of pioneering researchers and practitioners of the ritualized use of psychedelic medicines in the West. In her professional work, she has led diverse initiatives, including a training program to promote an experimental mindset among teams at NASA and a decade-long cross-sector collaboration to reduce toxic chemicals in products, in partnership with Green Science Policy Institute, Harvard University, IKEA, Google, and Kaiser Permanente. Leigh lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and her daughter. Justin Talbot Zorn has served as both a policymaker and a meditation teacher in the U.S. Congress. A Harvard- and Oxford-trained specialist in the economics and psychology of well-being, Justin has written for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, and other publications. Along with Leigh, he confounded Astrea Strategies, a consultancy that bridges contemplation and action, helping leaders and teams envision and communicate solutions to complex challenges. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and three children. In part one we explore how to better navigate the noise of the modern world. Across the conversation, we discuss different interpretations of silence, what gets in the way of silence, the power of silence and how we can all benefit from it, how silence helped them to write this book and how to find pockets of silence in our everyday, noisy, busy lives. So without further ado I bring you Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn.
KC – Justin, Leigh, welcome to the Relationship Matters podcast. I am so excited to have you both here on the show.
LM – We’re so excited to be here.
JZ – It’s a joy, thank you for having us.
KC – We’re talking today and across the next three episodes about your book that you’ve written together, Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. What a wonderful title for a wonderful book.
LM – Thank you, we really were so happy when the title finally came to us, yeah.
KC – I’m curious about this idea of Golden. What sparked the idea of writing a book about silence and why do you both believe that silence can be golden?
JZ – Thank you for this question. This book grew out of a question that we were both asking ourselves, it’s a question that’s probably very familiar to you and your listeners, especially these days, which is the question what are we going to do about this crazy world? How can we possibly be effective in bringing more sanity? The two of us come from the urgent, high stress work lives where we’ve worked on issues like climate and poverty and mental health and we both have younger kids, and a few years ago as we were contemplating this question at a very tumultuous time in human history we both got this same intuition about where to look for an answer. Tuning into silence. Getting beyond the noise and just listening. It wasn’t really an intuition to go meditate more, it wasn’t a calling to get back to that practice, we’re both kind of lapsed meditators I guess you’d call it. But it was just a feeling about something simpler and also, in a way, something bigger. The idea that the problems facing humanity right now might not be solved with more thinking or talking.
LM – Yes, we wrote an article for Harvard Business Review on this topic about silence and, much to our surprise, it went viral, it really resonated with the world and so we took that as a signal and a moment to step back, to really think about what was here, what was possible, what was wanting to be explored. We were new friends, we’d really only written a couple of articles together, we hadn’t even met in person then, so we took a few big steps back and a few big deep breaths and really thought about what’s being asked of us, we followed those cookie crumbles and started interviewing dozens of people including some of the world’s leading neuroscientists and psychologists as well as renowned spiritual teachers, politicians, artists, business people, and even a Buddhist master who’s in San Quentin’s death row, asking this question like what’s the deepest silence you’ve ever known? And through their stories and insights we’ve written a book that looks at that – why silence matters to our personal and global challenges and how do we find it in this noisy world?
JZ – And Katie you asked about this question about the title, golden, why is silence golden? It’s a phrase, an adage, an aphorism that’s existed for millennia, actually. And the origins are quite mysterious. The first origins of the phrase, silence is golden, and really the full phrase, speech is of silver, silence is of golden, was in 1836 in a novel by a Scottish polymath, philosopher, mathematician named Thomas Carlisle. And Thomas Carlisle said that the meaning of that phrase speech is of silver, silence is of gold, means speech is a time, silence is of eternity. So that there’s something so big and expansive about the silence, and that our words, of course, matter so much, everything comes to us through our lives, our abilities to communicate, and then there’s also the silence that’s this space of mystery. In the book we describe it as this space of renewal. As this space of expansion and freedom, creativity that’s always available to us. So the essence of this book is to really appreciate silence as something golden.
KC – Gosh, that’s so refreshing to hear and I love the diverse mix of industries and expertise you brought in to help inform and shape the book, and also the fact that you’re not writing this from a monastery somewhere in the middle of nowhere, you’re living lives that are noisy and busy and normal and I really appreciate that because I think for many of us, the idea of running around, running away rather, to a mountain, and meditating, it feels like of course, then I’ll find silence. But actually, what you’re asking is sort of how can we find silence amidst everything that is our lives, our normal lives.
LM – Absolutely, we’re really interested in the nexus of contemplation and action and we have run off to mountain tops and meditation retreats and we’ve done that at different periods of time in our lives, even brought meditation into US Congress, Justin did, for the first time, and brought it to clients who were interested in, even snuck it in when clients weren’t interested in mediation. But at this point in our lives this is not the primary way to find quiet and we really wanted to hack that problem, how do we bring that deep silence into this busy, full life?
KC – I love what you mention in the book as well about the different types of silence and noise and the fact that actually we have this external noise but there’s also internal noise. I think I admit this at last, at long last on the podcast. Many years ago I dropped out of a 10 day silent retreat over Pasadena, after 26 hours. And it was primarily because the noise in my head was so loud and it was a very strict retreat so you couldn’t exercise, you weren’t allowed to write anything down, so I think I ended up stealing a pencil and I wrote my thoughts down on a toilet roll, it was very Shawshank Redemption, and then after 26 hours I was like I need to get out. But that was my experience of a silent retreat and it really wasn’t all that silent at all.
LM – We so know that place Katie. Yeah, that is not an uncommon experience and we’re so appreciative that you could share that here because a lot of people really beat themselves up about not being able to find silence in that particular, very particular, way, in your case as such a somatic person to note move, to not write, you know, it’s a lot to ask some of us and that’s just not always everyone’s way to silence and that’s part of why we wanted to write this book, as a bit of a non-meditators guide to getting beyond the noise and not beating ourselves up for it not being that route. I was meeting this friend, a new friend, she’s a fellow mom on my daughter’s volleyball team once and we were just getting to know each other and she asked what do you do and I said well I’m writing this book about quiet, and that’s all I said and she said ‘oh my god, I’ve been meaning to meditate, I can’t believe I haven’t started meditating, why can’t I just do that’, and this woman, I had just found out, was a new partner at a huge firm, law firm in San Francisco, she was a single mom raising two girls who were both in sports, she was running around everywhere, even making little special sandwiches for these tournaments, and here she was beating herself up about not meditating. So that’s not uncommon in the places we live and, you know, the Bay area and Santa Fe and there’s really infinite ways to find silence and that’s what we were interested in exploring.
JZ – Yeah, and as Leigh was mentioning, we have so much respect for mindfulness and meditation, we’ve been a part of our own wave and it’s been an important part of our lives but we’re facing this mass proliferation of mental stimulation in the world right now. The world is so much noisier than ever, in demonstrable terms, according to the World Health Organization, in auditory terms, in terms of the sounds in our cities and the sounds in all sorts of landscapes. We’re also facing this barrage of informational noise, noise on our screens which I probably don’t need to tell anybody about, we all know that in our own way. But some of the research now is actually showing real demonstrable increase in a third kind of noise which is internal noise, which is really difficult to measure but some of the leading researchers and scientific practitioners in psychology and various neuroscience disciplines are looking at how to measure noise in the mind, looking at proxies like anxiety. Ethan Cross at the University of Michigan, who’s one of the foremost experts of this, shows that it is increasing levels of internal noise and today it is something like 320 state of the union addresses worth of internal chatter that we have to listen, and for the international listeners, that’s this long, kind of verbose speech that the president of the united states gives, an analogue in many different countries. So the question of this book is amidst this mass proliferation in mental stimulation in the world, how do we find respite? How do we find refuge? And that’s really the question of this book and mindfulness is one answer, for sure, but one of the foremost experts in mindfulness studies, actually running mindfulness based stress reduction studies based out of Penn State University, told us the issue is, you know, with a lot of people and mindfulness studies, if you don’t take the treatment, the medicine won’t work. And a lot of people just aren’t sticking with it for the reason we described, with your friend at the volleyball court, the fellow mom there, it becomes a to-do. It’s also all these questions like am I doing it right? You know, like you described Katie at that retreat of not being able to stretch and move. The purpose of this book is to help people to appreciate the value of simple silence that can appear in our lives, and also in our own way we want to give people license to not get too caught up in all the rules and tools and questions like am I doing it right and to just simply appreciate the silence. Because in our own way we all know what silence feels like for us.
KC – I actually felt my body soften when you said simple silence because it does feel very complicated sometimes, you need your fancy cushion and your candle and the music, and the energy has to be just right and that feels in itself to create a lot of noise internally, if not everywhere else, and so I like the fact it’s a simple silence that feels achievable for everyone, and so would you say this book is for absolutely everyone and anyone?
LM – Yeah, we called it the non-meditators guide to getting beyond the noise sort of behind the scenes, but it’s also a meditators guide to getting beyond the noise so we called it the non-meditators guide to getting beyond the noise, but even when we’re meditating, successfully much of the time, we’re not meditating all the time. So it’s really finding silence throughout our day, little pockets of silence and the moment of respite. So we go through the book looking at individual practices, practices that we can do with our loved ones, our co-workers, our friends and family and also how that can look as a society, to have these moments of quiet peppered throughout a day.
JZ – Thinking about this question, Katie, who’s the book for? Really the essence of this book speaks to the question of how are we going to deal with all this noise in the world? How are we going to navigate it in our own lives personally and thinking about our communities, thinking about our workplaces, thinking about our societies. This book is about why to find silence in a world of noise and how to find silence in a world of noise. And ultimately, you know, going back to that initial inspiration for writing this book, that kind of feeling of despondence about the state of the world that I’m sure is familiar to many of you, this book is an answer to this. It’s not a perfect answer, not a complete answer, the silence is not a panacea that’s going to fix everything, we still have to do the work of dealing with climate change and dealing with inequality and dealing with polarization that exists in our world. We have to do all the work that’s in front of us right now in this world, but a core premise of this book is that finding and appreciating silence, getting beyond the noise, is a pre-requisite for everything else that we need to do right now.
KC – Yeah, and I think it was quite shocking, actually, seeing some of the stats in the book about how little silence we get and how noisy our lives are, and I guess I didn’t even think about silence being a privilege in many ways because often cities are noisier than other places. And so yeah, I wonder, what even is silence and can we even find it in our day to day lives, is it possible?
LM – Well, one way to look at it, we’ll start with maybe what noise is and then kind of work backwards because we started with just auditory noise, what we commonly think of, what we measure in decibels, that which hits our ears, we’re very interested in that type of noise and that is on the rise, as Justin mentioned, it’s the second most concerning form of pollution according to the World Health Organization. We’re also interested in what was happening in our nervous systems and in our intentional networks and the overload of information. Information has been on an exponential rise since the internet and other things, there’s just mass proliferation of information available to us, grabbing for our very limited attention. Our attentional networks max out so quickly with 11 million Bits of information coming into our sensory channels and only about a 160 Bits of information being able to be processed. It’s a huge difference! So that asks a lot of our filtering mechanism, so no wonder we’re all so overwhelmed by sound and then that kind of informational stimulus and what that does to our internal noise, that chatter that Justin was talking about, that you heard in that monastery ramp up, so that interplay is what we were interested in here, looking at the different types of noise, and there are so many others but that’s where we focused and that interplay is so fascinating, looking at silence. Silence is infinite, as that quote that Justin mentioned, many types of silence, but we do think about silence external to us, that outside landscape, maybe one that is not perfectly quiet but is filled with bird song or things that are not demanding our attention, and then we looked internally at what creates an internal sense of quiet. Joshua Smithe who Justin referred to a minute ago, emphasized when we asked him about internal quiet that quiet is what people think quiet is, it’s a subjective experience, and I would say and add quiet is what people feel quiet to be, as well as what we think it is. For example, he had one of his study participants found his deepest quiet chainsaw carving, revving up a huge chainsaw and carving this hunk of wood. And he described that quiet he found in that activity to be just absolutely rapturous and pristine. That’s how he found his quiet so there are infinite routes.
JZ – And for us it was really part of this journey, you know, we felt this intuition about the importance of silence for dealing with the challenges in our own lives and in the world and we started studying auditory silence after we wrote our Harvard Business Review article, and as Leigh mentioned we asked all these people ‘what is the deepest silence you’ve ever known?’ Poets and politicians and neuroscientist and business people and artists, and really, to this question of the meaning of silence, we were schooled by the answers. Because the answers were not always auditory quiet, as Leigh was alluding too. The answers were sometimes the 4am mark at an all-night dance party. A birth or a death or a moment of awe. A moment when the mental models would slip away, even if that wasn’t necessarily a quiet moment. So at one level, you know as Leigh was describing these levels of silence, at one level there’s this silence that’s the absence of noise. It’s the space where nothing is making claims on our consciousness. But then there’s also this deeper level of silence which is not just the absence of noise, in our view, but also this presence unto itself. And it’s something that we can’t easily define for you and it’s something that we don’t easily define in the book and that’s on purpose. Because, as Leigh mentioned, it’s subjective. It’s something that each one of us knows and each one of us can explore in our lives, but we can say that this silence as a presence is a place of humility, it’s a place of not having to know the answers, of not having to know what to say, of not having to show up in just the right way, it’s a place of expansion and rest and renewal.
KC – Is it a place of flow, would you say?
LM – Oh, definitely. I think that’s what’s beautiful about flow states, is that they’re pretty accessible, familiar to many of us, so a part of the journey was realizing that flow and other self-transient experiences offer us the opportunity to go beyond our sense of self and to connect more broadly to other things. To be in this incredible place where there’s basically no room for self-referential thoughts. Because you’re challenging yourself to some great degree, and yet you’re also brining your mastery skill into that moment of flow. Like, I remember you saying that you’re a skier, so skier’s do, you know when you’re really, maybe on a challenging line, running on a challenging line, all of your attention, all of those intentional networks I was talking about are needed for what you’re up to so yes, and there’s just no space for the rest of it. But then at the same time there’s that shrinking of self occurring, there’s this expansion of self because you might feel connected to everything, all the elements around you, and maybe anyone who’s ever run that line before, who loves that kind of activity before. It’s a beautiful thing. Yeah.
KC – You’re so, so right. I just got back from a trip recently and I hate moguls but I found myself just continually going down and down these moguls, I was exhausted but it was so addictive because it was this feeling of time sort of not really being there. I couldn’t sense time because I was so focused and yet in quite a literal flow. And I wonder how much of that I get in my day to day life, I don’t know really if it shows up all the time and I imagine that’s a feeling that a lot of us are having, how much flow do I get in my day to day?
LM – Yeah.
JZ – You know, we spent some time talking to neuroscientists about the meaning of internal silence. And that was how we came to this idea of flow as an element of silence, as one experience of silence. Because we asked some of the world’s leading neuroscientists what is silence in the mind? And they were pretty much unanimous that in a living mind there’s no such thing as the total absence of sound and stimulus, a mind that’s without any sound and stimulus is, in a word, dead. And yet they said to us there is such a thing as silence of the mind because they’d all experienced it, but it was really hard to define. As we were saying, that silence is something subjective, something that each of us knows intuitively. So instead of going to these top neuroscientists in the world, we ended up going to a 14-year-old middle school basketball star to talk about the meaning of silence in the mind, because he told us how he was quote-unquote “hot on the court, when he couldn’t miss a shot”, his mind was silent. And we went into the contours of that and we realized that this what is meant by flow at its essence. This experience of being immersed in movement, immersed in, as Leigh was describing, this space where there’s no possibility of any interference. Which is how we talk about the noise. So we don’t mean to say that our definition of silence is exclusively flow, there’s also the more literal kind of silence that we’ll often describe through so many stories of people finding silence in the wind, in the rain, in nature, in listening beyond the noise that’s making claims on our consciousness and the world. And there’s this very rapturous kind of experience of silence when the mind is silent in the state of flow.
KC – So I’m wondering, did this silence and flow state, perhaps, help you both to write this book?
LM – Oh, absolutely. Yeah, there’s a flow to us writing together I would say. A lot of co-authors divvy up a book – maybe you write this chapter, I write this other chapter – that’s not really how we work and we didn’t know this, or at least, I didn’t know this, but that’s fairly unusual. So I think because our love for this topic is so great, it’s so vast, we both have a very much a beginners mind about this topic, there wasn’t maybe as much ego that can get in the way with some of the writing and we were really just trying to refine, refine, refine to get to a certain type of attunement with this topic. It was a constant meditation that we were doing individually, that we were doing together and it made it pretty easy to write this together and that’s a type of flow, absolutely. I’ve never asked that question, I love that question Katie thank you.
JZ – Yeah that was such a strange convergence of events that lead to this book and the process of writing, my partner and I had newborn twins, my wife gave birth to newborn twins while we were writing the book and, you know…
KC – Congratulations.
JZ – Thankfully they came healthily but we had to spend some weeks in the hospital with them, just as twins being born a little bit early as twins often are and with a 5-year-old at home with her grandparents and then a pandemic hit right in the middle of that. And Leigh, having a teenager and managing all of that. So it was, there was some moments that just felt like hurricanes of noise if not sleeping of the noise of uncertainty in the pandemic and figuring out how to juggle work and this process. But sometimes the kind of flow we’re talking about, it just arises from love. You know, from love of what you’re doing. And as Leigh mentioned, you know, in the face of that despondence that we’ve felt that lead us to ask this question, like what are we going to do about this crazy world, and then leading us to this answer, tuned into the silence, at least as a starting point. This just to us felt like the work, this just felt like this is the topic that we need to be exploring right now, this is a way, in some small way, that I think, you know, some writing can bring some help to people. And it’s certainly brought some help to me in my life, my ability to find more balance in my life, thankfully, a little bit more moment by moment.
KC – I think your collaboration, however you want to put it, your teamwork, writing as one voice, that’s how it comes across. I feel like that’s testament to the power of silence then. Because when I read about for the first time, you’ve come from quite different backgrounds, different expertise, and yet together, leaning into this silence and then also making that your topic, it seems like so much was possible.
LM – Absolutely, that diversity that we brought of perspective, we really leaned into and trusted that we could be sensing two entities, you know, two individuals sensing what was true about this, discerning for ourselves the signal from the noise. What’s just what people say or think about silence vs what really feels felt and true. We were really interested in that direct experience of silence, how it really is lived and how to best capture it. So we kept leaning into that discernment together, and trust. Trust is an incredible quietener, if I could say. Trust in each other, trust in this topic and trust in the process, there’s really so many things conspiring for this to work.
JZ – Mmm. And in the book, we spend a lot of time later in the book talking about practical ideas related to how to bring silence into our individual lives, our family lives, our workplaces, our whole societies, you know and to your question Katie, I think we really did work to bring some elements of this power of silence in working relationships, in partnerships, creative partnerships, based on some of our experience brining silence into organizations. Some of the times we have had a chance to work in the same place we’ve gone on silent walks together and really integrated some of these ideas and, you know, have a conversation going up the hill and quiet down the hill or vice versa, and really the ideas have time and space to breathe. Because we talk in the book about how silence is magnified when it shared. You know, I know sometimes, as you mention the mediation retreat – challenging. And then there’s also a reason why people come together to meditate rather than just doing it alone in their living room, the power of silence is magnified when it’s shared. So we did work with silence in the process of writing and I think we created a really good contained for finding our alignment, in term so the message, in terms of the way the message was delivered.
KC – Mm. That’s beautiful. I think about that idea of comfortable silence and that being sometimes the goal in intimate relationships, so if you can sit comfortably with your partner in silence, but I’ve never really thought about brining that to other parts of my life. Obviously as a coach holding silence is important and it’s really hard because silence speaks volumes and I think sometimes maybe we don’t want to listen, and yet what are we missing when we don’t?
LM – Absolutely, I see that a lot as a supervisor of coaches. There’s a real discomfort with holding silence, holding a space, that there’s often what seems to be getting in the way and I’ll ask and unpack that with coaches as they’re concerned to prove their worth, you know, to bring a lot of content, you know that’s a very understandable initial phase so it’s really the noise in them that’s creating more noise in that relationship. So it feels like more often than not I’m encouraging coaches to take, to bring in a metaskill, as we call it in ORSC, of spaciousness, of silence, of bearing witness, and that’s a powerful thing for clients and we offer them those things. And it may, like you say, reveal what’s not working. Noise may be a signal of what’s not working for the client and to have someone compassionately hold that space is a powerful way to be with it.
JZ – I’m thinking Katie, too, with this question, this observation about the space of silence in working partnerships sand in family life. There’s a reason, though, why so many teenagers fear awkward silence more than anything. You know, there’s a reason why it’s hard in workplaces, but there’s a reason also why in all sorts of relationships it starts to be in silence. We have a chapter, a whole chapter of the book called Silence Is Scary. And, you know, we look at this idea at the level of our everyday life, being in silence with another person just means dealing with the presence of another being without any kind of performance, without any kind of script or agenda. Without any kind of, you know, the normal ways that we’re enculturated to behave with other human beings. You’re just there, face to face with another being. And then this goes all the way to the deepest level of, you know, being in deep silence on our own and being face to face with the biggest, scariest questions of why we’re here, even our own mortality. So all this sounds really heavy but it speaks to stuff that really manifests in our day to day. Why silence is so awkward. Why silence, when we often feel that urge to fill the space. And part of the premise of the book is that if we do the work to get comfortable with silence as you just alluded to Katie, then we can deal with a lot of other sources of anxiety. Sources of fear, even sources of uncertainty, personally and in our relationship.
KC – I love what you’re saying there. It’s really interesting around the idea of silence, perhaps being an ally, I’ve never thought about silence being an ally. And stopping yourself from getting in your own way. I think back to your collaboration, and you said about how you didn’t want to speak about silence in the way one of you was thinking about silence or the obvious way, you wanted to be open, you wanted to be in that silent space as you allowed this topic to emerge and how easy this might have been to get in your own way, to jump in with your idea and maybe, who knows, what might not have happened. And I wonder how many collaborative partnerships might be helped with a bit more silence.
LM – Absolutely. What, in fact, it feels like an important fact to mention, what we wanted to stay away from were our ideas, our pre-conceived notions of silence, what one of our interviewees calls the ‘conceptual overlay’. We tend to think of this topic of silence. We really wanted to direct ourselves and the reader to the direct sensory experience of silence, what is true, what is the felt experience of silence and, so even to those listening right here, to not just engage this as an intellectual curiosity, but to really take these words, this noticing noise, in tuning into silence and tune in with all the levels that are available to you, not just your mind but your nervous system, all the channels that we have, you know, to really apply it. And this has been a five-year meditation for us, of that, what does it really mean to tune in to silence? It’s a full body and beyond experience.
JZ – Leigh mentioned this phrase ‘conceptual overlay’ which we got from the meditation teacher Michael Taft, which might sound like a complicated idea but it’s really something pretty simple. Which is that when we encounter an object, you know, a flowering tree or a puppy, not that a puppy’s an object but when we encounter something in the world, rather than using our sense to fully overserve and experience them we’re usually caught up in this overlay, at least I can speak for myself, there’s some level of overlay of labelling ‘tree’, ‘puppy’. A dimension to the silence we’re talking about is the experience of just experiencing, receiving and perceiving the world, almost like a baby. Just seeing without the overlay. Just hearing without the overlay. And this is an important, often kind of misunderstood element, not fully recognized. Element of the kind of silence that we’re talking about. Silence in the mind isn’t just in these rare moments where we’re off on the meditation retreat or out in the woods but just in the everyday walk outside. Just stepping out of the cubicle or stepping out of the home office and feeling the rays of the sun on your skin. Can we just have the experience without narrating it?
KC – Such a good point. I was thinking back to, I recently lost my phone which turned out to be a real blessing in disguise, just before Christmas. So, I didn’t have a phone for two weeks and it was bizarre how incapable I was of navigating myself around London, I’ve lived here a long time and I had no idea how to get to places! I printed out maps and I suddently realized that the street looked different because I was actually looking at it, I sort of filled in the blanks. I don’t know if you’ve both had that experience, just barely really seeing but just being aware that there’s a street there and I guess looking up, just pushing away that distraction, even though it wasn’t deliberate, enable me to be able to just see in a different way, I guess to your point Justin, around, we sort of just know what’s there instead of leaning into really what’s there.
LM – That’s fantastic. You’re pointing to this whole segment of our book that we call the healthy successor to the smoke break which we’ll explain in a second as to why it’s called that, but you’re jumping way ahead in that one of those practices, those little gifts of silence, to really embrace those moments where your phone, you know, you lose or misplace your phone or the screen is cracked or you find yourself in a long line, or the podcast you were streaming suddenly comes to an end, that even was just unplanned, actually those unplanned moments that you silence, that you revel in them, that you savor them, that you take that as a moment. So, you know, you didn’t order it up but there it is. So that segment, so you’re ahead of the game there Katie with your appreciation that you’ve found. And yeah, then you are having a more direct episode with your sense of the world around you.
JZ – And it’s kind of a… it is really a misunderstood way of understanding silence. You know, not often recognized way of understanding silence. Which is just the direct experience of reality, it really is a big part of what this book is about, that silence isn’t withdrawal, it’s not avoidance, it’s not an escape from the world. At a deeper level it’s engaging the world more directly without all the commentary and drama and expectation, just expecting not what’s what or who’s who but what is.
KC – It comes back to that quote that you say in the book, silence isn’t the absence of noise, it’s a presence. And I really can feel that right here and now. But also in what you’ve been saying, there’s this exercise I used to help with people when I’m doing presentation skills and I get them to think of something in their body, they might say their right big toe, and then they’ll look at something outside, so yellow picture frame and then they’ll get inside and it’s basically this grounding exercise. And that came to mind when I just thought about that really being with what is. Maybe it’s a physical sensation, maybe it’s the birds flying past, but how that in itself can ground us into our own flow, whatever that rhythm may be.
LM – Absolutely. Well, and one of those ways I used to do that throughout a day was through smoke breaks, which is why that one chapter is called healthy success into the smoke break, because in the book we say I have a confession to make, I loved smoking and it’s not really so much that I loved smoking, I just loved those pockets of silence that would come with that and my sensory experience of watching the smoke swirl or seeing the rays of the sun pass through, a light shaft, or the deep inhale or exhale I would take as I smoked. And, even though I’m really glad I quit, saved a lot of money and all that horrible stink in my hair and all that stuff, I did miss the quiet that came with that. I did miss the breaks throughout the day, that 5-minutes where nothing was expected of me but way before we had cellphones to be watching or looking at whilst you smoked which I understand is now how it goes for smokers which is really unfortunate because that must have been one of the last places where we would get a regular dose of quiet throughout a day. So we have this chapter that offers a whole other variety of healthy successors to the smoke break that includes those little gifts of silence and little hits of nature, stepping out to the rays of the sun, maybe listening to the bird song or the wind as we talked about. Our Japanese colleague Morikawa who you spoke with really recently, helped us understand the Japanese principle, traditional principle of ‘Ma’, this opens space, the pure potentiality, silence that’s also how it’s interpreted as being. So it’s through and through Japanese culture that there’s like emphasis not just on what the object is but the empty space around the object. So if you take Ikebana flower arrangements, beautiful branches, those little petals and leaves, that it’s not just that object that we take into consideration but the blank space around it, the same is true of Haiku poetry and theatre and architecture, there’s so much reverence for that that’s not there in time and space, as well as which is there and that really permeates through conversational patterns and things we can learn how to appreciate the ma, the what’s not there, the moments of transition, moments of in-between, as much as we appreciate the content of what’s there.
KC – Learn to appreciate the Ma. Almost feels like a liminal, limbo space, but also feel of potential.
LM – Pure potentiality. Yeah. Gorgeous.
KC – I’m really understanding now how abundance can be and how it’s infinite so I’m thankful that we booked three podcasts in for this discussion, because we’ve barely scrapped the surface when it comes to silence so I’m looking forward to deep diving more into rethinking our relationship with silence and sort of turning it into an ally in our next episode.
LM – Thank you, we look forward to that too!
JZ – Katie, this idea of rethinking our relationship with silence, sometimes it can feel like oh I need to rethink my relationship with it, I need to rearrange something in my life to make it work, but the essence of this really, coming back to how we started the conversation, is really just appreciating silence. That’s really the core message of this, you know, as you’re talking about the abundance. Appreciating the silence that lives in between words and lines of conversation among friends. In opening a door, going into a new room. Getting a glass of water. The silence between breaths and within the breath. It’s so important and I love that you use that word Katie.
KC – I’m really appreciating the flow that we’re in today. I’m sensing the power of silence here with us and I look forward to continuing it more with us in the next episode. Thank you. Take care.
JZ – Thank you for having us.
[Music outro begins 42:33]
KC – A huge thanks to Leigh and Justin. Their book, Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noise, is coming out in May of this year. Here are my key takeaways of part one of this three part special. We are experiencing increasing levels of both external and internal noise, so amidst this massive proliferation of mental stimulation in this world how do we find respite and refuge? Silence can be a simple way for creating more of this in our lives. Silence isn’t a fix all problem, we still have to do the work that’s in front of us. However, finding and appreciating silence, getting beyond the noise, is a pre-requisite to everything else we need to do. There are many types of silence and silence is infinite. Quiet is what people think and feel it is. It’s a subjective experience and there are infinite routes to finding it. Some people find silence even when their environment isn’t auditorily silent. So I want to leave you with a question – what’s the deepest silence you’ve ever known? Make sure to check out part two and part three of this special bonus series which look at rethinking your relationship with silence and silence as a tool for transformation. Finally the book, Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noise, is available to pre-order now.For over 18 years, CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams, and practitioners on their journey to build stronger relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of Faculty and Partners, we connect, inspire, and equip change agents to shift systems, one relationship at a time. We believe Relationship Matters from humanity to nature to the larger whole.
[Outro 44:41 – End]