Silence: The Secret of Successful People

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Some of us are afraid to be alone in a quiet and silent place, others can’t stand a moment in the unknown. This silence, which we tend to run away from, seems to be the pillar of any success.

When we look closely at the daily life of the people who laid the first bricks of the modern world, it is easy to see that they imposed silence on themselves. In their reflective environment, far from the deafening noise of this changing society, these people solved problems that impact the daily lives of each and every one of us. They have established approaches that very few of us could have imagined. They have made this world what it is today, while harnessing the unparalleled capabilities of the human spirit. Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs are among those who have used the power of silence to enhance their performance.

As frightening as it may be, silence has always been sought by elected officials. Long before Jobs, Bell or Einstein, in the third century, a much calmer time than ours, the fathers and mothers of the desert preached silence. In the sixth century, Benedict of Nursia, a Christian saint known as the “father of Western monasticism”, included it in his monastic rule [1]: a monastic rule written to guide the disciples in communal monastic life.

A century later, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, received the first revelations of the Koran in the silent cave of Hira. Long before that day, Muhammad made numerous spiritual retreats in this cave, far from the vices of Mecca people of the time. During his retreats, he contemplated the stars and wondered about the source of creation until the day when the angel Gabriel came down and taught him the first verses of the Quran. [2]

The story is not only about that. Thomas Merton, a monk who followed the rule of St. Benedict and lived from time to time in New York, says in his book “The Seven Storey Mountain” that :

The atmosphere of the city suddenly became terribly tense with some news that came out of the radios. Before I knew what the news was, I began to feel the tension. For I was suddenly aware that the quiet, disparate murmurs of different radios in different houses had imperceptibly merged into one big, ominous unified voice, that moved at you from different directions and followed you down the street.

Radio was one of the many things Merton was happy to leave behind when he entered Notre Dame de Gethsemani Abbey. Sitting in the darkness and in human silence, he “begin to hear the eloquent night, the night of wet trees, with moonlight sliding over the shoulder of the church in haze of dampness and subsiding heat” and found his most fertile silences again. According to Morton, the human world has forgotten the joys of silence and the peace of solitude which are necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human life.

So, you’re going to tell me: “For a religious, it’s logical, isn’t it? Tell me instead how Steve Jobs exploited the power of silence to make so much money.

Well, little impatient one, know that the power of silence goes far beyond wealth. And as Thomas Merton mentioned in his book “The Silent Life“:

“Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.  When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting.  For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul.  If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person.  He no longer lives as a man.”

What about the silence in the lives of the builders of the modern world?

Alexander Graham Bell, the famous inventor of the telephone, would surely be impressed and horrified to see what has happened in the world since his telephone patent was granted. Horrified by the mobile phone, or rather by this mini gadget measuring just a few centimetres, which forces the mental health of many young people to escape from their skulls when they don’t get enough “likes” in their Instagram photo. Not to mention the fact that most people are caught up in incessant movement and routines, stifling their creativity and preventing them from conceiving the future they want most.

Bell, unlike most of us, understood the power of silence in the conduct of his creative thoughts. When he felt the restlessness of ideas in his brain, he would retreat to his workplace without food or drink and ask that no one (not even his wife) disturb him for fear that such interruptions would prevent him from conceiving his ideas. According to him, thoughts are like precious moments that pass: once they are gone, they can never be caught up again.

What about Albert Einstein?

Considered one of the greatest scientists in history and best known for his theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein used the power of silence to conceive the unimaginable. He once said: “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, I swim in silence and the truth comes to me.

Einstein understood that thought is overrated and silence is underestimated. In our noisy world, most of the noises we experience on a daily basis come from inside our own heads, from our discursive thoughts, from the continuous chatter in our minds. Einstein understood that silence was an antidote for his overworked mind.

This silence, which creates calm and clarity, also creates the space for feelings and sensations to enter and be experienced as an incarnated consciousness. It allows us to grasp and give meaning to what is communicated or performed. Without it, all sound, speech or music loses its coherence and meaning. This was clear to Mozart, who declared that “music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them.

What about Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs, in full Steven Paul Jobs, is one of the first entrepreneurs to understand that the personal computer would appeal to a wide audience. He is considered one of the three biggest icons of high technology, rivalled by Bill Gates and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg. He is also known for his legendary ability to create innovative and revolutionary products.

However, few people know that he was a pioneer in what was once a rather esoteric “technology of the mind”. It involved using mindfulness meditation to reduce stress, gain clarity and improve creativity. Jobs said:

“If you sit down and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it down, it only gets worse, but as time goes by it calms down, and when it does, there is room to hear more subtle things… That’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and to be more present in the present . Your mind slows down and you see an immense expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It is a discipline and you have to practice it“.

Meditation is therefore one of the best ways to integrate calmness into your day and to grasp silence and its power over your mind. It allowed Steve Jobs to see clearly into the future of his company and to connect with what he believed to be his mission, so much so that he advised Mark Zuckerberg to visit the temple he had visited in India [3]. The rest is now history.

Silence is therefore the gateway to undiscovered thoughts. It gives us a glimpse of the “why” behind our behaviour and teaches us through the subconscious mind what the conscious mind cannot uncover. While we are excited to make certain decisions and act in a certain way, silence forces us to ask ourselves whether our behaviour is aligned with our values and intentions, and then allows us to determine the best way to act in response to that situation.

Silence promotes self-awareness and allows us to connect with our environment. When you are silent, you will notice a distinct change in your ability to be more aware of yourself, your emotions and your feelings. It can be frightening, at first glance, to find yourself facing your own thoughts and discovering the real source of your deepest problems. However, this step is necessary for an absolute control of our being and our environment.

Silence is a discipline by which prophets as varied as Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad prepared for their ministries and received revelations that founded new religions. It is a discipline that enabled leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt to make decisions that defined history. It is also a discipline that allowed thinkers like Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs to bring solutions that very few of us could conceive of.

And as Wayne Dyer said: “Everything that’s created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness.

Notes

  1. The holy Rule of st. Benedict, tr. by a priest of Mount Melleray (1865)  https://books.google.ca/books?id=FfACAAAAQAAJ&pg=1&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false, (vu le 12-02-2021)
  2. La vie de Muhammad (1981) https://www.islam-ahmadiyya.org/images/stories/pdf/la_vie_de_Mohammad_saw_web.pdf (vu le 15-02-2021)
  3. Gowen, A. (2015, October 31). Inside the Indian temple that draws America’s tech titans. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/inside-the-indian-temple-that-draws-americas-tech-titans/2015/10/30/03b646d8-7cb9-11e5-bfb6-65300a5ff562_story.html

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