The Scientist and I have done another experiment. A twenty-four hour vow of silence. We began at noon on a Tuesday and finished at noon on Wednesday. The agreement was no spoken communication, but we would text if something urgent arose.
The first couple of hours were odd. I’ve never been intentionally silent simply to see what would happen. I’m comfortable with silence, but I felt like I was having to internalize a new rule, which made me a little tense. Also, there was the factor of the unknown. What would happen? Would we be able to sustain 24 hours of not talking?
After the first few hours, I felt myself start to settle internally. I love the sense of quiet that comes over me when I don’t have to speak or process spoken language for an extended period of time. It allows my internal processes to run uninterrupted. On a practical level, I’m more focused. Emotionally, I feel peaceful.
As the day wore on, I realized a few things:
A lot of what we say in the course of a day isn’t especially necessary. We speak as a touchstone or on impulse or without even thinking.
Without spoken communication, you have to pay a lot closer attention to the person you’re with. I thought it would be the opposite, that we’d feel disconnected. It turns out that not being able to shout from one room to the next about something forces you to be more intentional and aware.
I’m much more naturally inclined to silence than The Scientist is. That’s not surprising.
Being silent created a feeling of being present, focused and energized. I felt more mindful of my actions during the day.
Not being able to communicate complex ideas would get frustrating if I did this for more than a day. We managed to communicate simple things with gestures: time to walk the dog, meet you on the couch in five minutes to watch TV. Beyond that, I had little idea what The Scientist was thinking, which was strange and a bit disorienting.
We managed to make it the full twenty-four hours. Sort of. The Scientist had to take a work-related phone call and he volunteered to go pick up a package at our apartment building’s office. I slipped once and exclaimed “oh” when a man appeared out of the dark beside us as we were walking the dog at night.
All of those felt like reasonable exceptions to the experiment. We never did have to text each other about anything.
I now understand why monasteries that limit or prohibit talking have strict routines. We relied a lot on routine to navigate the day without speech. We always walk the dog after dinner. We always go to the gym on Wednesday morning. If not for those routines, it would have been harder to get on the same page about all the simple activities that fill up our days.
A caveat if you’re thinking about trying this at home: twenty-four hours of silence can drive you deeply inside yourself. The Scientist and I both agreed that we liked this part of the experience a lot. However, two days later I found myself experiencing some intense feelings that had surfaced as a result. If you decide to take your own 24-hour vow of silence, it’s a good idea to be sure you have a support network in place, in the event that you find yourself having a similar experience.
Like our other experiments, this one has taken on a permanent nature. We’ve decided that from now on, Mondays will be silent. I’m looking forward to seeing what the long-term effects of having one nonspeaking day a week will be. And, of course, I’ll be back to share the details.