The sound of silence
Robert Ashton explains why a period of silence can be spiritually beneficial.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, caught the attention of the world’s press recently. He decided to start his Board meetings with 30 minutes of silence. This is something alien to most people today, who can find silence uncomfortable. It’s why shops & restaurants play background music. It’s why people talk in the cinema or theatre, right up to the moment the performance starts. And even then, some can’t resist the temptation to continue talking to their companion.
Unfortunately, the silent half hour at the start of each Amazon meeting is not for reflection. Nor is it an opportunity to consider the wider impact of the decisions you are about to make. Instead, it’s to allow each member to read carefully the Board papers so that the discussion can be more focused. I guess it’s the only way to be sure people read the papers before discussing the issues they contain.
In the media, silence is seen as a negative way, and in the arts, silence is usually sinister, associated with darkness, loneliness and often fear. Yet allowing silence into your life is like welcoming a shy friend, who would otherwise remain unnoticed. Meditation is becoming popular, often associated with mindfulness and positive mental health. Once free of noise, you start to hear and notice things you’d otherwise miss.
As a Quaker, I have come to value silence as a trusted friend. Each day begins with a few minutes silence as I reflect on life’s purpose and what I believe I am here to do. Then each Sunday I have an hour with Friends of what we call ‘gathered silence’ in our Meeting for Worship. Within that collective stillness we find spiritual nourishment. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it, but it is far from lonely.
You see just as Simon and Garfunkel suggest in that famous song, you can hear a lot when not distracted by other people speaking. Try it and see.
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Robert Ashton is an author, publisher, social entrepreneur and Quaker.
For more about Turnpike Business Centre, Robert’s ethical business centre, click here.
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