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 2, we discuss the dark side of silence, appreciating and understanding silence as an ally, silence as a presence, and learning how to look turn into the silent spaces that live between all of the noise in our 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 field guide for navigating the noise of the modern world. Not just a 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 healthy, mental clarity, ecological sustainability and vibrant community. In part two we’re discussing rethinking your relationship with silence. Across the conversation we discuss the dark side of silence, appreciating and understanding silence as an ally, silence as a presence and learning how to look turn into the silent spaces that live between all of the noise in our lives. So without further ado I bring you Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn.
KC – Leigh, Justin, welcome back to the show, it’s great to have you both here.
LM – Thanks Katie, good to see you.
JZ – Thanks for having us.
KC – I’m wondering if we can dive into the darker side of silence. You have a whole chapter on why silence is scary and I’m keen to find out more about this.
JZ – Yeah, it’s, you know, for us, we bring so much reverence to this topic of silence as a source of energy and inspiration and renewal in the book, and then for us the elephant in the living room is sometimes just the fact that almost all of us, almost everyone I know, myself included, avoid silence so often. You know, how often we’re in the car or walking somewhere do we not put in our headphones, how often are we just comfortable without any sound and stimulus? It’s so natural to wanna fill this space. And we do have a chapter in the book called why silence is scary which, at one level, looks at what a lot of teenagers would call awkward silence is so uncomfortable naturally, but at a deeper level what’s so scary about being away from mental stimulation and the sound and stuff of ordinary life? And for us the work of silence is about getting comfortable with these spaces where there’s no distraction, where there’s no diversion, we just have to see ourselves, we just have to be comfortable with ourselves. You know, a few centuries ago the French polymath Blaise Pascal said something to the effect of that all of humanities problems ultimately stem from human beings inability to sit in a room alone. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to go off to meditation retreats or do any specific kind of meditation. For us it’s just this point that it’s so important that we get comfortable with silence, because getting comfortable with silence is getting comfortable with ourselves, is getting comfortable with the present moment.
KC – That piece around silence being scary really lands. I always think about silence in the middle of the night when you wake up and you’re the only one awake and how actually that doesn’t feel so golden, it’s the most frustrating and sometimes scary part of the whole 24-hour experience if you’re alone and I think for a lot of us silence can feel quite lonely. And, as you say, what’s possible if we lean into that space as opposed to running away and filling it with stuff.
LM – Yeah, our wish there was to really normalize that feeling and I think we probably thought we would breeze through that segment, it kept coming up again and again, this why is it scary or that fear, if it’s so great, if silence is so great why aren’t we embracing it already? So to Patrick Otuma, this great poet and theologian from Northern Ireland, he says to say hello to it, to greet it, the oldest technology that there is to say hello to that thing that we want to push away, to marginalize, and just be with it as is. Not try to change it.
JZ – We really do a deep dive into the dynamics of why silence is so, not just frightening but just so unpleasant sometimes when we first face it, before we get comfortable with it and when you asked the question I was just remembering a study that came out in 2014 from a scholar at the University of Virginia, who actually tested this hypothesis you know that silence is one of the most unpleasant phenomenon for people who are uncomfortable with it, and that’s most of us human beings, and he gave undergraduate student participants in the study the choice – they can either sit in silence alone or push a button that would administer a button that would administer a painful electric shock. And while all the participants had initially said that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of the men and 25% of the women eventually actually chose to shock themselves rather than sit in silence over a long period of time.
KC – My gosh.
JZ – So again, it’s this idea, we’re writing this ode to silence and yet the silence is something so nourishing, it is something so renewing and something so inspiring, so edifying, fortifying for our health, and at the same time it’s something for which we almost all feel some aversion in us. So one of the core questions we look at in this book is what is the source of that aversion? Nietzsche called it in the genealogy of morals, a philosopher called it ‘horror vaccui, the horror of the vacuum’. The dread that a human being feels in the absence of sense, data and mental stimulation. But the question we look at is what’s at the other side of that? What happens when we make friends with silence, or as Leigh was talking about, invite it in. What happens to our overall state of consciousness? And one of the core ideas of this book is that, to borrow a phrase from someone we interview extensively who we spoke about recently with you, Cyrus Habib, that we can become connoisseurs of creation if we befriend the silence. Once we make friends with silence, with not having to fill the space, the colors are a little bit brighter and the flavors are a little bit more beautiful in our lives. It’s possible to become a connoisseur of creation.
KC - Connoisseur of creation, I love that. It’s so true, whenever I’ve been away on a retreat or I’ve created some kind of space I do come back and food tastes better and colors are brighter and the normal every day, I remember coming back from volunteering in the Philippines and the shower felt amazing in the first week. Having a shower! But then I guess the business resumes, and the noise, and you kind of lose that and it’s a shame really that I can’t keep bringing that sense back.
LM – Well that’s the practice, we come back and back again and building that relationship and really giving credit to silence when in, and then maybe investigating the silenceas uncomfortable for what it has to teach us.
KC – Leigh, I’m wondering, because as a coach yourself, silence is a big part of what we hold sometimes and the space for the teams and the organizations we’re working with, but it can be fairly uncomfortable, I guess coming back to that idea of the awkward silence and maybe the need to fix, and yet what’s possible as a coach when we befriend silence, as you say?
LM – Yeah, I’d say this is one of the biggest growth edges of most coaches and as we kind of move from that initial stage where we’re learning tools and we’re learning sort of tricks of the trade we wanna fill this space with those tools and give a lot of value and content to our clients, when really the more, at least the longer I’ve been doing this as more and more skill and mastery builds up, it feels like less and less is what we do, less and less doing. We’re more holding the space, the container for silence, so that their intelligence can fill that space, so that their recognition, that revealing the system can happen. It’s hard for that to happen if there’s a lot of the coaches content in there, it’s better that revealing of system comes from the system itself. And so I feel like as a coach of what I’m doing is giving people permission to be this container of silence, to do something a little different. It’s not awkward because I say this is what we’re going to do, you know, I’m helping them hold it. Or even naming the silence as, you know, that awkwardness and just helping them work with it a little bit. And a lot of people are really hungry for that. For example, I work with a lot of scientists and engineers and when we’re working with NASA in particular, 70% of their team identify as introverts. Actually this fire hose of content and constant verbal processing was extremely exhausting for them, so to have some reflective space, to have some sanctioned time and space for silence, it was just healing to them, allowed them to participate more fully and then also allowed for new thinking to emerge.
KC – I love the way you hold silence as a tool and a technique in its own right and it does the opposite of filling the space. I guess it’s the opposite of doing, it’s really holding that being space as a coach and a human being in general, yeah, really interesting. I’m wondering as well about the social, you call it the moral dimensions of silence and this really caught my attention because silence isn’t always considered a great thing, it’s got a bad rap and I wonder if you can talk more to this, this idea of silence and breaking the silence, being maybe questionable.
JZ – We write in the book about 2021 US Presidential Inauguration, many of your listeners will maybe remember the poet Amanda Gorman who’s become a superstar of late, and in that beautiful kind of benediction poem she offered, she said at the end that we learn that quiet isn’t always peace and we agree wholeheartedly. You know, there’s this cultural current, this idea of silence as complicity with injustice or complacency in the face of it, or even silence as violence. And as two people with irreverence for silence we actually agree with this idea that’s come up through the civil rights movement, that’s come up through the environmental movement, that’s come up through MeToo and so many other contemporary movements and we agree that there is this phenomenon in the world of a refusal to speak and act in the face of injustice and we write in the book that we oppose this to the core of our beings but at the same time, you know, we’ve come to the understanding that that silence, close lipped complacency, isn’t true silence because when we refuse to see and address the abuses that are happening, that’s the polar opposite of clear perception and intention. You know, when our eyes and our hearts are open, when there’s the space in our consciousness to really pay attention, that’s when we can have empathy, that’s when we can have compassion and that’s when we’re moved to act in the most skillful way, so a big part of the book for us, you know, coming up at this as advocates and activists and people who’ve worked in social movements and with progressives in US Congress, part of the reason we’re writing this book is to reframe the idea of silence. Yes there is that phenomenon of the apathy, the complacency on what hand, but these days, as we think about it, that’s as much as anything born of noise. If folks, and we notice this in ourselves, if we’re caught up in social media and constantly checking our email and notifications or constantly glued to the TV or whatever it might be that’s pulling us away from presence, we find that those are the times we’re less empathetic, that we’re really not so able to feel things in our heart. And just as importantly, we’re not able to act as skillfully to respond to the signals that are demanding our attention. So, a big part of this book is to reframe the idea as silence as an element of compassion and an element of skillful action.
LM – Yeah, and in this book we really, it’s sort of another occasion where we thought we might just say a few things about that, a paragraph or two about that, with my work in domestic violence, the tagline in domestic violence is to break the silence, you know, we’ll just say really simply that’s not the type of silence we’re talking about but we realized this was such a big and important topic to take on, the difference between a silence that is forced and a silence that is by your own volition, that to make that distinction and to really explore it. When we did we found such treasures like looking to the work of Gandhi, you know, incredible leader. And his every Monday was a day of silence. Every Monday he stayed in silence. He did not speak. Now he took meetings, he took visitors, went to events and things, but he wouldn’t speak and that taught us a lot, instantly. First off, we had never heard that before. That a man who’s taking on the British Empire, has got a lot of very important work on his plate, could pause every Monday for silence in order to really tune into what was needed. He says, he writes, after a period of 15 days of silence he writes “one cannot help feeling that nearly half the misery of the world would disappear if we fretting mortals knew the virtue of silence. Before modern civilization came upon us, at least 6-8 hours of silence out of 24 were vowed safe to us. Modern civilization has taught us to convert night into day and golden silence into brazen dim and noise.” So he would emerge from these days of silence and then drop this incredible wisdom without note. He used to, as a place to really tune into what was needed from him, to really tune into the work he was there to do, and that’s part of why we seek silence as the work of justice, this deeper silence.
JZ – And from, Katie, this example of Gandhi is actually something really practical. Of course, none of us are Gandhi and we don’t want to hold anyone to that standard of being able to hold silence the way he did amidst that kind of intensity but in the second half of the book, our kind of field guide to finding silence in the world, we offer a practice inspired by Gandhi’s example. To take a wordless Wednesday. You know, Gandhi had his wordless Monday but Monday can be a little tough these days, you know, just given the start of the week. So we invite readers, we invite our friends to try not speaking for a day. Gandhi sometimes read or even spent time with others, sometimes he was even in meetings, but he didn’t say a word. So, in the closing section, this practical section of the book, we talk about how to actually do this and it might sound a little ironic but probably a familiar idea to many in the coaching world that the key to being able to take a day to be in silence is clear communication. You know, the key is to check in on the people around you who’ll be affected, to explain why it’s important, describe your plan, find agreement on the ground rules, under what circumstances colleagues or loved ones need to interrupt you and to get their full support. And then once you’re able to set the conditions for that, that is if the conditions in your life allow for it, maybe it’s not a whole day, maybe it’s just a few hours, but to set aside some time. You know, your Wednesday, your Thursday, your Saturday, whatever it might be, to have a wordless period inspired by Gandhi.
KC – I love the alliteration, I love alliteration so wordless Wednesdays is something that’s already working for me. Is this something that you both practice?
JZ – I have, yeah, at various times, short retreats. I was just thinking about this this morning, at one level it could seem almost hypocritical how little silence I have in my life writing this book because I have twin 2-year-old toddlers and a 5-year-old and a full consulting schedule and this book, but in another way I think it’s just actually kind of perfect because I savor the silence in my life so much and for me in this season of life, it is often micro-moments for me. And I, you know, if it’s possible, I look forward, when my kids are a little bit older and when my work schedule permits it, that I can have more immersive experiences like this. But I do often take a few hour chunk time of this and get out into nature, when I can, and just really find my sanctuary that way.
KC – That’s what I adore about your writing partnership, is that you together normalize the challenges in finding silence, and yet you look at ways of finding it anyway. You don’t make it feel really lofty and far away and hard to get, you make it normal and every day and part of the busyness and the craziness and there’s quiet there too.
LM – Yeah. Thank you for that acknowledgement and it feels, I guess, you know, we probably struggled with it and felt like we were doing it wrong because we weren’t getting those big huge days, chunks, but then, you know, really meditation, finding it in those micro-moments that Justin was talking about, has been absolutely fascinating and gives me hope that as our lives change our circumstances change and stresses arise, and just to know that silence is always available, it’s always available to us, even in those micro-moments and it makes a big difference.
JZ – And I think in a way that really gets to the essence of what this book is about too. I mean sometimes friends would joke to us when they found out we were writing a book about silence, it was almost 400 pages, it was like oh is it just 400 blank pages? How are you writing about silence. And we’d always chuckle nervously and then start thinking about it like yeah, why are we writing so much about silence? But we realized it was on purpose, it’s on purpose, because this isn’t a book about starry eyed wispy reflections on silence and it’s not a book for people who want to run away to monasteries or away from the noise and vibrations of the world. This book, as the question you asked about social action implies, this book is about how to find silence within full engagement in the world. You know, and this book is very much a manifesto over why silence can be a pre-requisite to solving so many of the challenges we face right now in our world and why it matters for our health and why it matters for our clarity and our relationships. But it serves this purpose of helping folks to find silence in this world of fullness, of loudness, of vibration and action and intensity.
KC – So important, you’re doing the work in the world, or the yoga off the mat as some might say and I think in some ways it’s easier to be our higher selves when we’re away from the noise, the business, and also it’s not necessarily real life for many people and I love that you’re very much with us all in that, in the mess and finding those micro-moments as you say. I’m wondering about this piece, because you said about sort of silence and how there’s this language around it, maybe limit people’s understanding of what it can mean. Are you trying to get beyond the linguistics of silence in itself? Allowing people to create their own understanding of it. Is that at the heart of this book?
LM – That’s very much at the heart of this book and it was through an interview with a professor of bio-behavioral health and medicine, Joshua Smithe, University of Pennsylvania, that we really got that aha moment. That we were I dare say nagging him for a good definition. Like to pin him down on a definition, particularly on internal silence. The internal experience of quiet. So, not so much the auditory outside decibel or even the informational, but we wanted him to tell us, wanted to serve up on a silver platter the proper definition for internal silence and that’s a tricky thing and we knew it. But what he said to us in near exasperation, what’s quiet is what people think quiet is. Quiet is what people think quiet is. So this is a man that does huge mindfulness and stress studies, he’s looking at what’s working for people in life in terms of alleviating stress or creating stress, deeply. And what he’s found is that it’s pretty wildly unpredictable what will make a difference in people’s lives and he tells us a story of this chainsaw carver who gains his quiet through taking, you know, a roaring chainsaw and carving up a hunk of wood, I think I mentioned this to you earlier. So quiet is what people think quiet is to kind so to put it all into a simple definition or even a certain activity is not a useful way to come at it, but getting the reader, getting ourselves, getting these coaches to think about what really is experienced as quiet, inside our system, by our ears, by our nervous system, in our minds. What’s experienced as quiet is what we’re really aiming for.
JZ – And this speaks too something, you know as you’re talking about the definition of silence, what it actually means, you know, one journey we take the reader on in this book is a question of whether silence even exists. You know, a lot of modern physics researchers, astronomy and biology research points to the idea that even at the sub-atomic level everything in the universe is vibrating and oscillating and resonating at various frequencies. You know, there’s a possibly apocryphal Albert Einstein quote that everything in life is vibration and we think modern physics is showing it to be true which raises the question, is there even such a thing as silence? And in the book we offer the example of John Cage who’s a famous modern composer, you know, mid-20thcentury, who was well known actually for his love of silence and he had a piece of music titled 433 which was nothing but 433 seconds of rest, but it wasn’t actually just to give the piano player a break, it was written for a composer in an outdoor amphitheater and the point was to turn everyone’s attention to the rustling of the leaves, the branches in the wind and the sound of just the silence outside the concert hall. And Cage was inspired to do this work with silence years earlier when he we went to an anechoic chamber on the Harvard campus which is a room that is essentially built to be as soundless as possible, to absorb all vibrations and sound. And when he got there he told the engineer in charge that the room didn’t seem to be working at all. He heard two sounds, one high and one low. And he described it to the engineer and he said oh yeah, it is working the high sound is your nervous system in operation, the low sound is your blood and circulation.
KC – Oh my gosh.
JZ – That little, you know, experience that John Cage had pointed to this idea that maybe there’s not such a thing as a totally soundless, literally silent place in the universe. And we honor this in this book about silence, you know, we say silence in the literal sense, maybe it doesn’t exist. But silence as an experience in human consciousness we know exists. We know it brings us this peace and clarity and renewal in our lives and we feel we know it further now because we talk to over 100 fascinating people from all different walks of life and all different areas of expertise and science and working worlds about this and everyone agrees that this phenomenon does exist. But it really comes down to, you know, what Professor Smithe said at legions mansion, that quiet is whatever someone thinks quiet is.
KC - It’s almost like an open definition of silence or a holding of silence whereas break the silence, silence is scary, they feel very closed. And, as you say, in some ways the opposite of silence. You’re just turning away and filling with other stuff. I wanted to mention, my father bought all of our family for one Christmas vouchers for a sensory deprivation tank. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one?
LM – Ah, yes, of course.
KC – And it’s a very bizarre experience, I felt like well this might be what it’s like to be in the womb because it’s so strange to float and… but it isn’t fully silent because again, the thoughts are going. And as you say, silence is an experience and so where we might find that in these pockets of the everyday, busy, noisy life we live?
JZ – Your family sounds pretty cool Katie, let’s have a sensory deprivation Christmas. It’s kind of the opposite of most family Christmases.
LM – I like that. Yeah you guys are already tuned in. Your dad’s cool.
KC – I don’t know what message my dad was trying to send us… he’s like ah I just want quiet.
LM – Maybe so.
KC – There’s a piece I want to dive into around silence and it’s healing powers. And you mention example with CRR Global co-founder Faith Fuller who’s been a regular guest on the podcast. I wonder if you can share that to illustrate how silence can have the potential and power to heal.
LM – Yeah I can start us off there. So Faith is a dear friend and a total hero of mine as well as our co-founder and so I knew when this accident happened, she was driving home from a gig nearby and was hit head on by a car who had crossed the median and ran her off road, over some bushes and into a cement wall. She sustained some serious injuries, her shoulder was really pulverized and she also sustained serious brain injury. And luckily the regiment for her healing involved silence. And I say luckily because she was empathetic, her brain was able to heal with that silence. And Faith’s a person who’s got a long, deep history with silence. She used to play in the woods by herself and really feel a sense of oneness there and really forget about everything. She describes her very, you’ve heard her, she’s very bubbly and lively but she says really what makes that so is when she has to go back to the source, there’s the babbling brook, she goes back to the source in deep silence regularly. Faith was in a really busy spell when this accident happened, she says metaphorically as well as literally she was shoved off the road she was on. And so silence became this healing place for her. The ICU, no speaking, only whispers, no informational inputs or anything like that was part of the regiment and that was the aperture through which healing could arrive for her. And it’s her deep understanding, her deep history with silence, that made her telling of this so great for us because we knew she had this deep relationship with silence and so as she recovered, you know first she was in the Oceanic experience, you know like wrapped in soft cotton wool I think she describes and nurtured in that way, but after her brain came back online the internal noise, the draw for the computer, the smartphone, for being in contact, for making her plans and her internal noise in her mind or worries, you know, I’ve got this gig I need to go to Europe, started leaking in and she could really track the stressors of her brain as she recovered. So there’s actually a very silent space, very comfortably healing one, and then came the internal noise that we’re all so familiar with, that worry, planning, rumination, anxiety.
JZ – So we look to this story that Faith shares with us about her recovering, how the silence was not just part of her medical protocol, the medical protocol that saved her life, saved at least her cognitive abilities, this kind of, she describes it to us, this kind of pathway, this aperture through which the healing arrived. So this for us becomes the basis for the question of what is the biological basis of the power of silence to heal the body and clarify the mind? We look at how medical protocols do emphasis silence sometimes in cases like Faith’s and we go through a huge range of different medical studies and examples from cortisol levels in whales all the way to human cardiac studies and human studies of attention, particularly in young children, and the essential finding in this chapter is really simple. Noise is stress on the body and mind. You know, that noise leads to the excretion of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, that lead to the changes in the composition of our blood that result in a huge range of health and cognitive, you know physical healthy and cognitive function, challenges. So you know we explore this idea in this chapter and the title of the chapter actually is Florence Nightingale would be pissed. And we chose that title because you know, in spite of all this cutting edge research, because some of it’s just recently come out in the last few years about the role of auditory and informational noise in health and cognition. Florence Nightingale in the 1850s was really saying the same thing. You know when she took her famous assignment during the Crimean War, basically gutting and renewing one of the most putrid, awful hospitals imaginable for the wounded soldiers in the Crimean War and the British army. She emphasized dealing with the problems of noise just as much as dealing with all sorts of other sanitation protocols and standardizing medications and so on which at a time didn’t make a lot of sense to people. You know, in this abyss of amputated limbs and mind boggling filth, here she was focusing on the seemingly measly problem of noise and telling everyone this was so important. But the reason she did that was she had this really deep intuitive understanding of the world that noise is an obstacle to physical healing. And she talked about different kinds of noise and its effect on healing too, it’s fascinating. In her journals she wrote about the problem of the kind of noise that creates an expectation in the mind. She talked about the kind of noise that denies the patient the feeling of closure, and basically what she was talking about is similar to how we describe it. It’s the kind of sound and stimulus that’s constantly making claims on our consciousness so that we can’t be in the present moment. So that we can’t feel that feeling of closure that she’s talking about and then we can’t be present. And when we can’t be present the body responds by excreting these stress hormones. And in study after study we’ve found this same finding.
KC – I’m really starting to understand now why you say silence is presence and I’m feeling it again today on this call and how you can find those pockets of silence in conversations and over a cup of coffee and on a walk, even though it’s not auditorily silent as we said in the last episode, there’s different types of silence we can find and heal with.
JZ – Totally. And there’s just one thing I would add to that, I mean, Katie, when you’re describing that how we can find it in conversation, find it over a cup of coffee, find it in everyday life, that’s such an essential message of this book I feel. And in this chapter too we also point, and it’s really at the end of this chapter on the physical health, that we point to this idea that is also a special benefit to the most immersive kinds of silence. Actually just being far from human civilization, out in nature just listening to the breeze or listening to the rain. Tuning into the simple essence where you’re just even listening to the ringing in your own ear, listening to nothing at all. There was a Duke Medical School study some time ago that looked at the effect of different sounds, listening to different sounds, on the auditory cortex in mice and how different sounds effected neural development. In this study the researchers actually through that listening to Mozart or listening to Pop sounds of baby mice would be most healing to the brain, would produce the most neuro cell development, but it was actually the silence. And you know there’s a little twist in our line of argument here when we look at this study because the researchers find that listening, just listening to silence, is actually a form of what they describe as positive stress or you stress and I know I just talked about all these challenges that stress brings to the body but there’s also a new kind of stress which is exertion, which is linked to flow, which is when we’re at the maximum of our attention and skill level, focusing on something. And what they found in this study is when those mice in the anechoic chambers, just like John Cage actually, were listening to the silence, they found that their brains regenerated more than in the presence of any other kinds of stimuli. And so if we immerse ourselves in silence and you know there’s these everyday kinds of silence that you were just alluding too, but if we also make time once in a while for these more rare and rapturous kinds of silence that we kind of describe in the book, we can also, we believe, accelerate a kind of concentration. Accelerate a kind of health healing.
LM – Yeah in the book we do take on the silence, the science of silence. And what’s so fascinating about this is that silence was so often just a control variable. Thought to be neutral in the studies and just a time and again, like the studies with the mice, it wasn’t neutral at all. It was actually healing. Or it wasn’t neutral it all, it was actually more relaxing, it offered more relaxation the most relaxing music was put in there. So it’s surprising, you know, silence has been surprising us in these studies and now it’s become more of the topic of study.
KC – I think it was what you said in the last episode about silence being a simple solution, not a fix all, but it’s a simple solution and it can be, in these examples, a medicine it seems. And I love that because some things feel scary and complicated and being a human being sometimes is hard, but silence feels like something that can help with so many different types of problems.
LM – It’s a great place to start is what we like to say. You know, it may not fix everything but it’s an awesome place to start.
KC – So do you think then that silence is a pre-requisite for understanding ourselves and finding joy?
JZ – You know, so often in our culture there’s this idea of take a moment of silence in mourning. Take a moment of silence to commemorate something terrible that’s happened and we do work in this book to reframe this meaning of silence as a place to honor and celebrate life. When we’re caught up in the noise of the world, the sound and stimulus of the world, it can be so easy to just go from one thing to the next feeling that stress and that kind of scarcity of time or resources or being so caught up in thinking of what to say that it’s easy to forget that life is a precious gift. And that, for us, I think I would say is the essence of joy. Silence is a pathway to appreciation.
KC – Mmm. I love that. Silence is a pathway to appreciation.
LM – Mm hmm. And it offers us that opportunity to orient towards that appreciation, to find our own intention in a way of relating and desire to show up. How do we want to show up to this precious life? How do we want to celebrate, how do we want to honor? That pause offers us the opportunity to constellate with that moment. To really orient to how we want to be with it. That feels, to us, just critical. Simple and critical.
KC – I’m certainly rethinking my relationship with silence. I’m looking forward to our next episode, our part three where we look at silence as a tool for transformation in the wider sense and sharing silence together.
LM – Thanks Katie.
JZ – Thank you Katie.
[Music outro begins 37:38]
KC – A huge thanks to Leigh and Justin. Their book Golden The Power of Silence in a World of Noiseis coming out May of this year. Here are my key takeaways for part two of this three part special. You don’t need to run away from life in order to savor silence. How can we find silence whilst still being fully engaged with the world? Silence can be a pre-requisite for solving so many challenges in the world and it matters for our health, clarity and our relationships. We can find and savor micro-moments of silence in this world of fullness, vibration, action and intensity. Listening to silence can actually be a form of positive stress or you stress which is linked to flow. Silence can help us to accelerate our capacity for attention as well as our health and healing. Silence can be a place to honor and celebrate life, when we’re caught up int eh noise of the world it can be so easy to go from one thing to the next feeling the stress and scarcity of time and resources and to forget that life is a precious gift. Silence is a pathway to appreciation. Make sure to check out part three of this special bonus series which explores silence as a tool for transformation. 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 39:36 – end]