Unspoken serenity

A way to move silently through the noise

My life is an immersion in words. They are my currency: I write words and teach them. I adore the rhythms of literature, the shape of lyrics, the meanings both surface and subtle in our syntax and grammar. I enjoy – as now – building a turreted argument from the bricks and mortar of words.

I’m not the only one. Our world is built on the power of words, and many of us relish the challenge of a late-night debate or the friendship established during a morning chat. At the same time, I’m starting to wonder if I sometimes use words to avoid, rather than connect.

In fact, it can seem that society adores a non-stop babble, regardless of its content. And many people struggle with the verbal or written form, causing them to fear the rigours of email-writing, or the quick-fire jousting of conversation.

Perhaps words have assumed a power they never ought to have, if many – including me – have sometimes felt overwhelmed by this unconscious tyranny. This might explain why silent retreats are popular. Without verbal distraction, the mind can focus on the stillness within. They can be wonderful, but silent retreats are an escape – we have to return to the babble of the real world in the end.

Yet it’s not always the rest of the world that’s the problem, at least for me. Because some of that babble is of my own making, and maybe it’s possible to discover peace within the chaos, if I can learn to be quiet.

Once, I lost my spoken voice for a week. Even though I was still writing, the act of not speaking led me to discover an inner silence I’d never thought possible within the noise. I found a part of that stillness awakened by going on retreat, and walked through my home town in an oasis of quiet: listening, but not engaging. And as the week went on, during those times when I switched off from both my words, and those of others, I found myself connecting to different rhythms: the tones of nature, the pulse of my heart.

It’s a discipline, for me, to neither speak nor write for any stretch of time. And yet I know that stepping back from the chaos, within the chaos, is vital in order to discover the inner peace many of us need. Plugging in to my silent self, disconnecting from an unconscious demand that I ought to verbalise my every thought, seems to me the only method for tuning my mind to a different beat.


  • Start small: an hour of quietness with no phone.
  • Don’t stay at home. Get out into your local environment and resist the urge to chat.
  • Begin connecting to other rhythms – of nature, of your heartbeat, of inner quiet.
  • Feel the cobwebs blowing from your brain and embrace any peace that comes.
  • If words come to mind, let them settle inside. Who knows what poetry might bloom as you move silently through a noisy world?
Words by Stephanie Lam

This article was originally published in Breathe Issue 26, Fearless & Flowing - View Magazine

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