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“Thought will not work except in silence.” ~ Thomas Carlyle
If we want to think better, we need to seize these moments of quiet.
If we want more revelations—more insights or breakthroughs or new, big ideas—we have to create more room for them. We have to step away from the comfort of noisy distractions and stimulations. We have to start listening.
In downtown Helsinki, there is a small building called the Kamppi Chapel. It’s not a place of worship, strictly speaking, but it’s as quiet as any cathedral. Quieter, in fact, because there are no echoes. No organs. No enormous creaking doors. It is, in fact, a Church of Silence. It’s open to anyone and everyone who is interested in a moment of quiet spirituality in a busy city. You walk in and there is just silence. Glorious, sacred silence. The kind of silence that lets you really start hearing.
Randall Stutman, who for decades has been the behind-the-scenes advisor for many of the biggest CEOs and leaders on Wall Street, once studied how several hundred senior executives of major corporations recharged in their downtime. The answers were things like sailing, long-distance cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles, and fly-fishing. All these activities, he noticed, had one thing in common: an absence of voices.
These were people with busy, collaborative professions. People who made countless high-stakes decisions in the course of a day. But a couple of hours without chatter, without other people in their ear, where they could simply think (or not think), they could recharge and find peace. They could be still—even if they were moving. They could finally hear, even if over the sounds of a roaring river or the music of Vivaldi.
Each of us needs to cultivate those moments in our lives. Where we limit our inputs and turn down the volume so that we can access a deeper awareness of what’s going on around us. In shutting up—even if only for a short period—we can finally hear what the world has been trying to tell us. Or what we’ve been trying to tell ourselves. Quiet being so rare is a sign of its value. Seize it.
We can’t be afraid of silence, as it has much to teach us. Seek it. The ticking of the hands of your watch is telling you how time is passing away, never to return. Listen to it.
Excerpted from Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Ryan Holiday, 2019.