When we refer to “silence,” we’re not referring to a totally quiet environment. Rarely is it possible to create the conditions for “perfect” silence. There are always cars driving by, birds chirping in the trees, or old pipes clanking away in the office building. Rather, we think of silence as something that we are engaged in. Silence is a quality of mind, a way of being, and a powerful type of presence in the world.
When we practice silence, there is a self-consciousness that we often ignore in daily life, when we are compelled to express every thought, emotion, or idea that floats into our heads, without fully understanding the intention behind them or their repercussions. Embracing silence allows us to be with ourselves in a way that is simply observant–not judgmental or mindless. This quality of observation can make our appreciation for life more subtle and profound and can transform group experience into a richer and more nuanced experience.
As we share silence with each other, it is important to be careful that we are not “silencing” others or ourselves. For some people, this may seem like an unnecessary distinction. But for people who have been silenced in their lives due to racial, sexual, or political oppression, this distinction can be deeply important. The silent dynamic we are trying to embody here is not one of “power over,” where we are not permitted to speak, but rather of “power with” coworkers and friends, with whom we have made a commitment to understanding the value of sharing space and time in a way that is supportive, meaningful, and infused with respect.