I Took A Vow Of Silence And Here's What I Learned
How a 24 hour vow of silence became the most powerful experience of my life
I'm gonna cut straight to the chase. I'm at a time in my life where everything just feels totally out of control. Financial difficulties, family and friendship issues, overindulgence in alcohol and junk food, short bursts of energy followed by days of lethargy. It's been a constant yo-yo of positive action and negative setbacks, as if my box of rubber bands don't stretch as far as everyone else's before snapping.
But for some reason in the midst of all this chaos, my mind went to the power of silence. It was a sudden and rogue thought, plucked as if from nowhere without any prior warning: "I should take a vow of silence." I didn't know why it seemed so appealing at the time, it just did. so I jumped on the internet right away and put in some research. How long to do it? What counts as silence? Can I still text people? What if I slip up? Are there any health benefits? What do others think that have done it before?
I was aware that the practice had strong religious correlations (afterall the image my mind first conjured was of a monk sitting atop a mountain looking out across the vast landscapes beyond) and that certain schools of philosophy had adopted silence as a form of fasting and self control. But my research gave me a broader understanding of the applications of silence in the modern world.
Vows of silence have been used to deepen religious people's connection to God, or adopted as a means of protest, and in some cases, silence (especially in young people) has been triggered as a defensive reflex in reaction to immense trauma.
From the Healthline article Vow Of Silence I learned that there are some set rules and recommendations to adopt if you so choose, but that the practice is as individual and flexible as we want it to be. To do it 'correctly' simply comes down to sticking to what you've told yourself and following it through. That mindset is fundamental in the development of willpower across all areas of life any way.
I knew I wanted to do it. I knew I had to. And for the first time in a disturbingly long time, I jumped right in and I bloody-well did it.
Beginning The Vow Of Silence
Around midday I started to tell people I was observing a vow of silence, from 1pm, for 24 hours. I got back some questions and I gave the best answers I could, which helped me fully grasp what I wanted to get out of the experience. I wanted to regain control of some element of my life, regardless how small or strange it may seem, to not only prove I can follow through on my word, but to truly feel like my choices are my own.
And at 1pm that same very day I started. My first hour was filled with doubt. Is there actually any point? How long is this really gonna last? You know you'll slip up... But I pushed all these thoughts aside and muscled through. It was weird not to have my mouth moving for a change!
One of the first things I noticed was how difficult it is to not sing out random parts of songs that popped into my head, or to join in with literally every song from Frozen while the kids watched it in the front room. And of course the family felt it obligatory to try to 'catch me out' and make jokes about it all etc.
It was most interesting to observe how much people like the sound of their own voice, in a totally non-inflammatory sense. It's like silence is a void that terrifies people. They feel the need to overcompensate with words, and I was slowly becoming more aware of the things that get said, or repeated, that are simply unimportant and unnecessary. Most of our chatter, it turns out, is pretty much pointless, and if that's what's going on outside of your mind, just imagine what's going on inside of it.
I was recognising how much we never truly listen. Our mind starts to form responses to vocal input before the contributor has even finished speaking. Take away the ability, or more so the willingness, to respond, and you pay more attention to the input itself. I knew I'd not have anything to say back. Any opinion I may have, or reaction I'd wish to express, would have to stay inside, so my mind stopped bothering with that whole part of the equation.
As the Stoics observed, we needn't have an opinion or form a response to everything. Action is more powerful than words could ever be. And let's not forget the old addage: A still tongue keeps a wise head. All of this was becoming abundantly clear, and it was freeing! More than that, seeing the opposite play out right in front of me, and being consicously aware of it, was offering even more lessons.
In these few short hours I knew that things would be different for me from here on out. And this was just the beginning.
A Few Hours After Observing Silence
By around 6pm I was feeling restless. I got myself and my daughter wrapped up warm and we went for a walk around my usual 3 mile route. It's mainly road and estate, but there are a few nice things to walk by and through along the way. We went through the small woodland on the corner of our estate and we sat on a fallen tree trunk. I gestured to her to close her eyes and listen. Take it in. The wind whistling through the trees, the birds singing goodnight to eachother, cars howling by in the distance. We stayed there for a few moments and absorbed the sounds of the world.
It was funny listening to her chat away manically to fill the silence along the walk. She'd talk about everything from friends at school to teachers that liked her stories, and anything else her ten year old mind could conjure up. It was nice to just listen, to know that I wasn't going to offer any judgement, input, or shoe-horn in some teachable moment at any given opportunity. How often do we really just sit and listen to our children?
She found it equal parts odd, uncomfortbale, and funny that I couldn't speak back. For her a lot of comfort comes from my voice and the things I say. The kids like my humour and my stupid singing, the monster noises roared at them while I tickle them to death. But we had to find another way, and it worked out just fine. I made a point of not being distant of course, to show them that love, comfort, and parenting comes from more than just words. And play-fighting is still just as fun without the monstrous roars of the tickle monster!
I did slip up twice though. Once I called out 'WAIT!' when Lily came to walk in during a particualr violent scene on TV, and again to wake her up for school before remembering I was in the middle of a vow of silence. It's no big deal, and I don't feel cheated by it or any sense of failure from it. In thirty years of habitual chatter and verbal nonsense, I used less than five words in 24 hours, and that, is most certainly an achievement.
Avoiding Conflict Through Silence
My biggest finding so far is in the amount of arguments I haven't had with my family. There are so many times that I'll get wrapped up in something pointless, or involved in something going on around me, and it just spirals into something a thousand times worse than it has to be. And then there's stress, anger, depression, extremely high blood pressue as if I'm going to explode (we all have families, right?) on top of the initial conflict. Well, that all went away.
The hardest part of it for me has been to not express frustration, but that simple act has also been the most positive. You want to tell your daughter to get off her butt and find her uniform, because she's the only one who knows where she took it off, but instead you calmly pass her a note that reads: 'find it, now.' You want to shout 'enough!' when your son is in the middle of a tantrum but instead you give him a cuddle and calm him down.
And it all ends the conflicts so much faster. It's amazing. Whoever said 'silence is golden' is a goddamn prophet!
And don't get me wrong, if you're highly strung like I am and almost everything grinds your gears, you still feel the frustrations building in your chest, but you discover that they dissolve away so quickly alongside any potential outbursts that couldve happened before you observed a vow of silence.
I've decided to continue my vow for a full three days, becuase I've absolutely loved everything that's come of it so far. The lessons it's taught me in just over a day are so immense and deeply rooted I can't adequately explain them to you in words. It's deep, and primal. Intrinsic. And I know that my whole life is going to change from here on out.
10/10, 5 star, highly recommend. Observe a vow of silence, recognise the changes, and adopt them into your daily life. I promise you what you find will change your entire future.
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