the hardest simplicity


A friend of mine has just returned from a ten day meditation retreat where they spent the entire time in total silence. Between meditations they ate in silence, walked in silence, much as monks might.

He remarked how much learning he got from just being with his thoughts. For ten days, there was nothing else. He was able to pay attention to how his thinking worked. Noticing patterns in his thinking. Judgements, for example, of those around him. His fellow meditators judged for how they sat, ate, looked, or for what they were wearing. Thinking about conversations and meetings he would have, then reflecting and self criticising past conversations which might have gone better.

I contrasted this with a training session I had facilitated a few weeks ago. We asked the delegates to spend time , in silence, reflecting on their learning. After a short period we asked them how long that had been. The general concensus was seven or eight minutes, some thought more than ten. In reality it was four. Four minutes of silence with their thoughts and many couldn’t manage that. They wrote notes, checked phones, engaged in non verbal communication with neighbours…

We find it hard to notice ourselves. To be with ourselves.

Strange that something so simple is so difficult.


a fog clearing clarity of attention

the beauty of silence

Sometimes we can use words to say nothing at all, and silence to explain everything.

adapted from Raine Cooper

The fog of words, a cloak of noise, distracting, attention seeking, truth masking. Sometimes said for our benefit, not the listener’s. Sometimes said to distort, excuse, replay well-worn stories.

The purity of silence, a state of being, wordless knowing, inviting connection and togetherness, honest communication, total attention, a deeper knowing.


when silence is the most perfect form of speaking

silence time to think listen
Nancy Kline’s book ‘Time to Think’ advocates a model of human interaction that honours the individual’s time to think.

In our society we are expected to have an opinion, and to voice that opinion. To disagree or to agree with your perspective. Our language, our organisational culture, our very democracy is imbued with debate, dialogue, challenge. The great debates are forefront in the news and on social media… The USA right to guns or not? Is removing tax credits unethical? Can the Labour party survive its leadership choice? Will Jose get the sack at Chelsea? We are encouraged to debate them, to have a perspective, even to take a side.

At a coaching supervision group discussion today we were talking about silence. One coach spoke of the sheer joy of not having to hold a view in their coaching work. The freedom and release that gave them. As a coach we can be objective. Focus merely on the client’s story, their way of being. We don’t need a view as to the rights and wrongs of that. We don’t need a view as to the way forward, the solution for the client.

We can just be present. Listen at the deepest level. Give them time to think.

Nancy asks “what makes you think the question you are about to ask is more valuable than the client’s next thought?”

I wonder if in organisations, in society, in life we need to learn to be silent more. To honour other people’s time to think and to speak their truth. To not hold a view, but just to accept what is true for them. To intervene solely with the purpose of helping them to develop their thinking. Not for our understanding, not to share our opinion, not to demonstrate our value giving contribution of solution … but just to help them to develop their thinking.

Maybe there would be more understanding, more compassion, more truth?

why do we question?

question listen silence
Some time back I facilitated a workshop during which we experimented with silence.

It’s a difficult art.

Delegates had individually completed a five minute exploration of one aspect of themselves, resulting in a few written sentences. The second part of the exercise was to pair up and share that with a colleague. The only ask I made of those listening was to say nothing. Yes, to remain fully present. Yes, to listen completely, not just for what was said, but for deeper meaning and what wasn’t being said. But to remain silent. For the full five minutes.

They were all unable to avoid asking questions. So we explored that when we came back together.

It transpired the questions were all for the benefit of the questioner. Questions to clarify the questioner’s understanding. Questions for the questioner to understand context. Questions for the questioner to compare with their own experience. Questions for the questioner to shape appropriate feedback, input, opinion. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate they were listening. Questions for the questioner to collude. Questions for the questioner to feel they were adding value, helping in some way. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate empathy.

“When does this happen?” “What have you tried?” “What happened when you…?” “Could you speak to…?” “How long has this been like this? “If you approached it this way…?” “I know what you mean, it’s hard isn’t it?” “What did they say when you did that?” “How can I help?” …

It seems we have become accustomed to ask questions for our own benefit.

Shifting focus to only ask questions for the benefit of the other person is a skill. It offers the other person a way to expand their own understanding, broaden their own awareness. It offers the other person an opportunity to explore choices, possibilities. It offers the other person the opportunity to learn, to grow.

Above and beyond this enhanced learning, to have someone be with us, solely in service of us, is rare. To have someone listen that deeply, to witness but not judge, to empathise not sympathise, can be a very connected experience. To be given space to be with our own experience is a gift, humbling and trust laden. At this level, silence becomes the deepest form of listening. The purest form of being with someone.

In many of our conversations, our human interactions, we fall into the pattern of asking questions to broaden our own understanding or to feed our own need to be useful. Questions to find solutions for the person, to be helpful and affirm our own value… to ourselves.

Seeking questions solely to broaden the speaker’s awareness offers a different way.

Be curious about the true intent behind the questions you ask.

Practice seeking questions which broaden the other person’s exploration of their own experience and to find new learning, new possibilities, new meaning for themselves. Practice too the art of silence.