Episode 11 | Silence is Golden – especially for HSPs – Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn
Noise can be one of the biggest challenges for sensitive people causing us to startle, experience significant stress and lose our focus. I have lived this acutely hence my passion (and longer than usual preamble) to my discussion with Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, the authors of Golden - The Power of Silence in a World Full of Noise. Leigh and Justin bring to life their examination of not only our relationship to sound and how society often undervalues silence, but also practical ways to successfully engage with this top stressor.
Trained through Harvard and Oxford, Justin combines expertise in policy making with meditation and specializes in the economics of well-being. Leigh works with federal agencies, universities and organizations like NASA as consultant and coach. Justin and Leigh are also co-founders of Astrea Strategies, a consulting firm that helps “turn down the volume” for their clients so they can find and implement “creative and enduring solutions”.
I hope you enjoy listening as we speak about:
00:02:51 Noisy neighbours in Tokyo and Toronto
00:08:08 Meet authors Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn
00:11:57 Redefining our relationship to silence
00:12:52 Inspiration for the book
00:14:56 Progress does not value silence
00:16:30 The journey of different possibilities
00:19:55 Personal choices versus what we can control
00:24:30 Case study - Jarvis J. Masters in San Quentin prison
00:35:09 Noise - the cruel absence of care
00:44:03 Definitions of silence
00:51:27 Invitation for more quiet and reflection
Golden - The Power of Silence in a World Full of Noise
Sand Talk - Tyson Yunkaporta
How to Design with Sensitivity in Mind - ep 2 - Happy Space Podcast
Padraig Ó Tuama Irish poet and theologian
Pir Shabda Kahn Sufi teacher and mystic
Joan Halifax Zen Buddhist teacher
Ethan Kross Psychologist/Author
This podcast is hosted by Clare Kumar. As a productivity catalyst, highly sensitive executive coach, and speaker, Clare cultivates sustainable performance in busy professionals so they can keep making rich contributions in all areas of life and achieve greater fulfillment. She inspires leaders, professionals, employees, and entrepreneurs to respect humanity and boost performance through marrying productivity and pleasure. After all, why shouldn’t you have fun while getting things done? If you're a visual learner, we’ve crafted a version for YouTube as well.
Ready to learn more, or want to find out more about coaching with Clare or hiring her for your next engaging event? Book a chat with Clare here.
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Song Credit: Cali by Wataboi from Pixabay
Production: Judith George: To Be Reel
Podcast Art Design: Sharoline Galva
Clare Kumar: I stumbled on the book, Golden - The Power of Silence in a World Full of Noise, just in a random moment on LinkedIn. I wish I could remember what brought me to it but I remember immediately being curious about the title and finding a more out more about the book. If you've been following any of the goings on in the Happy Space Pod, the online community, or my posts on Facebook, you'll probably know that I've been in a particularly tough time with respect to noise, both in my neighborhood and from my neighbors downstairs. They're putting two condo units together and so there's been drilling through concrete hammering, sanding.
Now they're hammering the floor boards together. This has been about two months of almost daily noise. Outside, it's a particularly noisy neighborhood with a lot of either naturally loud cars or enhanced cars, enhanced jet skis, fireworks, lots of construction.
I went swimming today and they were repairing the broken pain of glass. The noise there, I think I measured 107 decibels, so there's continuous noise assaults. And so, you know, it, I know that I find it stressful and the appeal of valuing silence even more in our society and recognizing that that's really the great invitation.
I was so excited to find the book, read the book and then connect with the authors who I'm happy to bring to you today.
I also think back to when I was living in Japan, I was living in Tokyo. This is 1997 to 2000. I was there and it was a noisy city of in the day, 20 million people, at night, 12 million. The only day that kind of felt quiet was Sunday. And I was privileged to live in a nice spacious apartment building about 1800 square feet at the time, which was huge.
It was bigger than our house here in Toronto. And where it was situated was near Tokyo tower, which if anybody's been to Tokyo is this incredible replica of the Eiffel tower. Of course I liked it - it was bright orange, right? So a wonderful landmark. If you had limited Japanese, which I did, you could get home by just saying “Tokyo no chikaku desu” and you could get a taxi driver to understand where to take you.
So that was fantastic. Around our building though, there was a temple in the front and a school in the back. And at the same time they underwent construction. The temple was having a lot of noise and banging and the front side of the house. And on the back side, they were actually demolishing the school, but we didn't know that.
Now the school, it was a high school - it was originally a square with an inner courtyard. And in that inner courtyard, we didn't know it, but that's where they played all the sports. The sports teams would get together for whatever sport they were doing, and we never heard them. One day when they started bringing down the walls of this square, we realized, oh, wow, there's a new school building that had been built - erected in that courtyard.
And now all the play school, uh, yards were around the exterior. And if anybody's lived in Japan, you probably understand the value of ki and the energy that you get from really from the belly shouting. It’s in Marshall arts, and it's definitely in sports and encouraging teammates, which is it’s wonderful - this sense of encouragement.
However, let me paint you the picture. Imagine you've got a couple of tennis courts in front of you. I think there were maybe four on each court, four players behind each baseline. Eight students on the other side, and on the other baseline, eight students as well. And they were all screaming at the top of their lungs in encouragement for the other players.
Well, I remember I was pregnant at the time. My sensitivity was off the charts. Let me know…give me some feedback on, in social media or write to me, let me know if pregnancy raised your sensitivity or what your experience is with noise stresses as well. It became increasingly challenging with noise in the front noise in the back.
And then, to boot, in the evening, when the school noise had stopped, there was a taiko drumming studio. Right. We were on the fourth floor and right across the windows opened up to get the beautiful summer evening air was a taiko drumming studio, and anybody who's listened to taiko drummers, that's a full body drumming experience. And it is also super loud. So you can imagine I got to the point of being really, really stressed out at, uh, one point and it peaked and I won't go into all the details, but let's just say I had to visit a clinic to, uh, sew up some stitches, some wounds.
And, um, the ultimate thing though is I was effective through talking to the principal in broken Japanese. lobbying my then husband's company to talk to the landlord and ultimately got a second pane of glass put on all the exterior windows, which made all the difference to our ability to inhabit that space without increasing levels of stress.
Now, some of you may remember, um, just earlier this year we had a “Freedom Convoy” in Canada and, uh, it was truckers protesting and they congregated in different places in the country, but very notably in the downtown of Ottawa. And it was interesting. There's an article talking about how residents, even after the honking was banned - and I still wanna interview the woman who really took charge of, of lobbying for that injunction - there was “phantom honking” in their brains. This residual noise is quite insidious. It kind of finds its way into your body and into your mind and takes up root there.
I mean, if anybody's ever had a little, a newborn, even when the baby doesn't cry at night, you can kind of imagine the baby's crying. It's that kind of thing. And it's your body is staying vigilant and on alert and anticipating the noise. So I've been having some of that. With the intense concrete drilling that was happening here, you couldn't be in this space.
So all that to say, I'm sure everyone's had experiences with noise at different times. And I was really interested in the conversation. You're going to love meeting Leigh and Justin.
Let me tell you a little bit about them. They are the co-founders of Astrea Strategies. And so let me tell you about Astrea right from their website.
It's a consulting firm that helps responsible businesses, nonprofits and leaders turn down the volume, find creative enduring solutions and then bring them to life. And so Justin has these amazing combined talents of being trained in policy making. He's also a meditation teacher. He's been trained through Harvard and Oxford and specialized in economics and the psychology of wellbeing. If we can get to the economics of well-being. Oh my gosh. We might actually crack this nut. And wait till you hear Justin talk about that. There is opportunity.
Leigh is also amazing. She's a collaboration consultant and leadership coach, and you can tell. I can play “spot the coach”. There are questions in the book and Leigh brings this inquisitive mindset and gentle coaching nature to this experience.
She's worked with major universities, corporations, federal agencies. She's worked with teams at NASA on experimental mindset, and she's had a 10 year collaboration linked to removing toxic chemicals with within products with partners, including Green Science Policy Institute, Ikea, Google, and Kaiser Permanente.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was just to be able to spend time with Leigh and Justin and how thrilled I am to introduce you to their work and for you to hear in their own words just how valuable silence is. They offer so much wisdom in this book. It's a spiritual book, it's a practical book and overall it's an invitation.
So anyone you think who needs to read this book, I urge you to share it with them, recommend it, give it a review. That's a wonderful way to support new authors, on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever you get the book, to share what your thoughts are.
I was moved. I found the language riveting. I found the ideas substantial. I found the stories - wait, till you hear some of the stories, which Justin and Leigh recount in this episode of some of the people they've met and some of the science they draw on. I hope that you're as excited as I am to dive into this topic and really discover why the power of silence is so very, very valid, especially in this incredibly noisy world. Enjoy.
Clare Kumar: Leigh, Justin. I'm so thrilled you're joining me. This book is a gem. It's a spiritual work. It's a practical work and it's a great invitation for listeners out there to redefine their relationship to both silence and noise. I wanted to start with a question, which you mentioned kind of a couple times in the book you talk about, Tyson Yunkaporta.
You can correct me if I'm saying the name wrong, but he's the author of Sand Talk, how indigenous thinking can save the world. And you're asking him, you're looking to him for some guidance. Is there a society that honors silence? That cherishes clarity and wonder? And he's like, sorry, doesn't exist. You know, and you talk about a pumpernickel moment and that the world needs a pumpernickel moment. And I'll invite people to read the book to fully understand that, but it's this invitation to notice the value of silence. What drove you to write this book? And I'll let you negotiate who wants to start the conversation.
Leigh Marz: So we really came at this book, the reason we came to this book was that we were in a place of despondency. We were both in really noise soaked, action packed, very urgent, important lines of work, working on climate change, working in removing pollutants. Justin spent a lot of time in Capitol Hill and still does a lot of work trying election cyber security, and other things of great importance. And yet in 2017, which we started when we started on this journey, we were in a place of despondency where it felt like adding to the debate, the dialogue, adding more data, more content speaking up, being more reactive, you know, from a certain place was just adding to the noise and not cutting through all this noise. So we had the same intuition as to where to look, to look to silence for this place of perspective of clarifying our intentions and moving from there to be more effective in that kind of work.
Clare Kumar: That's so interesting because yeah, there's a lot of words. I have a neighbor right now that is motivated to do something about the noise as I am. And last week I had an $8,000 noise meter on my balcony measuring the noise. And she's about to make a deputation to the city to share all of her learnings. And there may be an opportunity for me to speak to, but what I've noticed in the book is it's this big invitation to really notice the value of science and maybe Justin I can come to you because you talk about GDP and I'm figuring this might be some of your expertise at play here. You talk about the way we have economic measurement of our progress across the world does not take into account any of the value of silence or the value of a forest or the value of the serenity of sitting by an ocean. A forest doesn't have value until it's cut down. So how do we, how do we get the change makers, the leaders, the urban planners to pay attention to what you're inviting is to tune into the value of silence?
Justin Zorn: Clare, I love the way you put this and you've summarized it so well already that the way we measure progress as a society measures that which is produced in terms of industrial production, it measures that which is spoken on Twitter and YouTube and all the places that you can speak, what we've entered into the conversation, but we don't have the means right now. We don't have the will as of yet to find a way to measure what's unspoken these times in nature, these times appreciating beautiful art, these times of silly playfulness with our kids.
And oftentimes it's these elements of life, these quiet elements of life that bring the most value to us in terms of real wellbeing, real thriving. So how we get urban planners and political leaders and economists to recognize this and to explore new ways to measure progress and value is an open question.
And in the book we don't prescribe any one thing, but we take the reader on a journey of different possibilities for what it might look like to do that. And the common denominator to all of these, Clare, is appreciating the silence. It's something that seems so simple, but taking a moment in this world where we're trained to appreciate the sound and stimulus of the world, where we're trained to appreciate the maximum possible proliferation of information.
Taking a moment to appreciate these spaces where there's no discernible information where nothing's making claims on the consciousness these times when we can just tune into the essence of what simply is.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I love that. It's taking me back to the afternoon I just spent with my daughter at the Art Galley of Ontario, which is, I think, one of the most beautiful places in the city.
It's got a Frank Gehry designed ribbon of wood staircase through it. It is not the Royal Ontario Museum, which is hard edged, cold and inhospitable in the extreme, it's a diamond shape. I don't know how you put museum exhibits in like triangles, but I'm at this gallery and about a hundred young people walk in and they are so noisy.
And I've always thought of museums as galleries of places of quiet and reverence and appreciation and stillness. I'm like there's clearly no mandate or guidance here. To even invite the silence, but we're talking about art on the way. And we're talking about Art Nouveau and Art Deco. And I said, well, I like Art Deco cause there's cleaner lines and it's a little quieter in terms of its design. And so we're having this noticing. She reads to me a passage saying, well, Art Nouveau– Art Deco. Yeah, it's not trying to say something politically, it's not making a statement. It's beauty for the sake of beauty. And I thought this parallels a little bit of what you're saying right now.
Yeah, so that's just a little, this is what happens in conversation with me just a little bit. I apologize. I just connect the dots, Highly Sensitive People tend to do that. It's like firing on all cylinders with this. This invitation to notice. So, you know, I work as a productivity coach and a lot of times I am inviting people to create more, rest, more peace, more ability to focus and think and create, which requires mind wandering time, it requires silence, requires all of that and people are reluctant to do it. They were afraid to turn their notifications off. It's like we have a cultural pressure. Thank you, Amazon. Thank you, you know, two-hour curbside delivery. We have this expectation for immediate gratification and we also have an ego drive and maybe a dopamine hit that we need from the new sugar reward system. What have you noticed is going on in terms of the evolution of both of those factors? The societal pressure for more is better. Fast is better. Louder is better. And also the ego part of it that says I need to be part of everything and, and FOMO is alive and well?
Leigh Marz: There's so many things in there. And one thing that's just worth noticing is that there is a tension between our personal choices, our sphere of control, our sphere of influence and that which is outside of our control, that which is systemic, that which is our culture driving this way, these values.
So both are true. like it is, you know, I mean, at least we can tell on ourselves and we do in the book quite a bit. We know that there are times we completely get caught in the noise. And when we are, noise begets more noise and we keep making those dopamine choices, we keep making those, you know, that we know we're not good for us.
And then there are times there's in fact, we decided to write a chapter why silence is scary. But we wanted to take this head on and normalize this fear that emerges and Roshi, Joan Halifax points out that this fear emerges in part because our smaller egoic self is being challenged in that moment.
And it's that separate self that sort of delusional, separate self, and that's terrifying. It will claw and scratch in order to make sure that it doesn't get, you know, disassembled in that way. But what's available to us is something much faster, ourselves that connect with all things, all entities, all beings, all beauty.
You know, all this essence that we started with. Yeah. And that's a big promise, a big thing. It could also be scary that moment of awe can also be scary when you're connected to all things. So there's a lot in there that we wanted, that we felt it was important to normalize and unpack and for the reader to really get tuned in to what is it about them? What are their likely hooks and habits around those things where they know, “Oh, this is not a diversion that is bringing me quiet or joy, you know, or enjoyment. This is a diversion that's really steering me away from what matters in my life and what needs my attention.”
Clare Kumar: Yeah, I have a colleague right now who's doing, who's decided that in her practice she's gone off social media entirely and the noise lifted a lot of noise lifted from her world, all the conversations that she was having after reading some content. Right, I noticed for myself too, while reading your book that I was, I've been under significant noise stress where I live right now from traffic outside, modified, exhausts on jet skis, guys wearing huge amplifiers on their backs to blast noise while they're jet skiing, modified cars and construction below me, which I'm so happy for the people below me, they've had the means to put two units together, but it meant drilling through concrete walls and over two months of construction and it might as well be like they're in my room. Right? So I've had a lot of noise stress here. And what I realized is that when we experience a lot of noise, there's a residual noise or energy that seems to stay in the body.
And it seems to bounce around my mind and it's through intentional practice to find something else to think about, is to take my mind somewhere else so that I don't keep amplifying it. And it was your book that spurred me to make the connection to that possibility. And also one other thing that really became interesting, there's a lot of, we can judge ourselves pretty harshly a lot of times, and I realized that in a day where I made better choices, that really honored my values, mind, body, spirit. My self-recriminating conversations went quieter. And I thought, well, this is interesting. Yeah, so you've got these invitations and in the book, you've got invitations for personal ways to find peace. Do you have favorite go-tos that you both enjoy to invite those smaller moments that you stumble on and enjoy? What kinds of things do you come up with? Maybe Justin, maybe I can give that one to you.
Justin Zorn: Hmm, sure. We talk in the book with a man named Jarvis J Masters whose been in prison for upwards of 30 years for a crime that the preponderance of evidence shows that he didn't commit and in prison he's become an accomplished Buddhist teacher and an accomplished meditator.
And we explore with Jarvis, the noise of his soundscape in San Quentin, because it's so noisy in terms of the literal auditory level of people yelling at his name, getting his attention all the time, whether it's guards or you know, other people in prison. Yeah. Fly radios playing party beats and sports commentary all day.
And then, you know, as we've alluded to there's these other levels of noise, Clare, there's the literal auditory noise, like we've been discussing and there's the informational noise. And then there's the internal noise, anxiety and fear, all these different levels of noise that there's many, many examples of research studies pointing to this internal noise being on the rise. Ethan Kross at the university of Michigan has found that we face something upwards of 320 US State of the Union Addresses worth of internal chatter. Okay. You know, I think most Canadians know, as well as this long, both speech, you know, kind of like the throne, I guess, and the prime minister and it's proliferating. So Jarvis is dealing with this intense noise at all these different levels in San Quentin prison. And he takes us on this journey of how he works to overcome the noise, to navigate the noise. And he talks about at one point, the experience of getting COVID and having experience where his neighbor in the cell next door was the first person to die of COVID and it was a terrible situation.
And he was about to take a very preliminary medical treatment. And this voice came into his head and said, this is not about you right now. As he was feeling all this fear and Jarvis in prison told us that this was the quietest he had ever become. His mind just went blank. As he thought about the other people, the mothers concerned about their children and people with pre-existing conditions.
So he says at the end, this was the quietest his mind had ever become. And he told us that he was grateful for the opportunity because he could perceive it and receive it. This silence that certainly wasn't something he would've sought or engineered into his life. Something that seemed extremely difficult.
He was able in a moment of difficulty to perceive and receive this beautiful silence that came onto him in a moment of distress. So your question, Clare, about our go to practices for finding silence. There are many we look at in the book, there's 33 different strategies we explore. Simple things day to day, how to just, not even with a fancy meditation practice, but how to listen, how to tune into the silence.
But one of the most profound practices for me, and I've heard Leigh speak about this as well, is coming into a place where we can receive gifts of silence, even when they come through unlikely or even difficult circumstances, can we to use Jarvis's term, you know, his phrase, can we perceive it and receive it?
And that may be, we're stuck in a line at the post office for a really long time, or we're in a moment in the dentist chair that may not be so pleasant, but we talk in the book about getting to take a temporary break from one of his life's most pervasive responsibilities, which is having to think of what to say.
So maybe that time in the dentist chair, you're in a place where you literally physically can't say anything it's like, rather than being like, oh my God, when is this gonna end to take a moment to connect and say, all right, well, this is a special moment, actually, when I can just tune into the simple essence, I don't need to entertain, I don't need to think of what to do. I don't need to engage that FOMO instinct that you just said a little while ago. Clare. So it's a long answer to your question.
Clare Kumar: Well, I'm glad. I'm glad you brought up Jarvis J Masters, because I was thinking of his experience, which you paint quite vividly in the book and the challenge, the auditory landscape, noisescape, that he has to endure.
And what I took away from that there were small moments to come to. There were small opportunities and it made me think that I've noticed when some of these small opportunities I didn't know I appreciated were taken away from me. One of them, for example, I used to work out at a gym and I used to go and park in the underground parking and I would walk from my car to the elevators and that was a quiet space. The elevators were generally a quiet space and then I'd get up into the gym and it would be a noise assault again. They ended up putting music in the parking lot. And I was like, “What is this doing here?” Why is this now coming in this place that I didn't know, but I was really appreciating that silence.
Same thing with my elevators and it's not, it wasn't an auditory noise. This is a visual noise. And when you talk about, you talk about internal– Auditory noise, Internal noise and Informational noise. And I think you include visual stimulation in informational noise, or at least that's what I'm– So I used to deal in clutter in organizing people in their homes. And there's, I would say you have to dial down the noise in the house visually. So it's another kind of input. Right? So they put in my condo building, they put advertisements LED lights screens, in the elevator with flashing things, bright white LED too bright for the space, you know, with the opportunity to make some money.
Right? And totally sacrificed the piece and the ambiance in the elevator. I am going to share this with my condo management, so if you're listening, this is for you. It's funny cause the company went out of business. We're stuck with these signs. I see the same guy taking off his jacket for a year and a half, he's just taking off his jacket. Nothing else happened. And he is just taking off his jacket. It's the same guy now for a year and a half and I think there's– it's to this lack of respect for these pauses, but I'm just coming back to your point though, where you say we need to perceive it.
And I didn't perceive the value in that moment until it was taken away. So how many, how many spaces are there that we need to intentionally hold onto and make an effort to create? So, I mean, part of my big mission with this podcast, the happy space pod, podcast and movement is to really invite the creation of a more tender world and straight up that's a quieter, it's a calmer world where our nervous systems, our sensory apparatus is not being assaulted so much. Where do you guys feel we are in inviting this? Listen, like I will be sending this book to my city counselor to invite him to listen and tune in, probably to the mayor of, or not the mayor, the provincial minister as well to just to have an invitation, to appreciate silence and I love that approach. Can we be doing any more? Can we be effectively lobbying? What do you think? Is there a place for what I'm hoping for?
Leigh Marz: Yeah, the political stuff and the policies and regulations have just to touch on. But I do want to just speak to the fact, I hope you don't beat yourself up for the things we don't notice, but there, and just to normalize again, that there is more and more stuff trying to grab for our attention without question and, and I'm without question, without concern for the actual toll that exists on us and on our ability to focus, our attentional capacities are very limited and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi estimates that it's something like 160 bits per second, that we're allowed to process.
There's 11 million bits of information coming at our sensor in, through our senses in the same amount of time that is not increasing, but the demands of things that are what Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen describe as “bottom up”. That's grabbing, as if like, Clare! I'm yelling your name, you know, something is binging, something needs my attention. That which keeps us alive in an evolutionary world where, you know, we're trying to scan and, you know, stay alert. That is also on the rise that is having a very real toll on our ability to not just focus on our work, but be equilibrated, be kind, good humans to one another. There's some serious tolls for us individually and also collectively as a community, maybe Justin could speak a little bit about some policy regulation ideas we touch on.
Justin Zorn: Sure. I mean, one thing that comes up for me, Clare, is you mentioned these feedback loops the way the different levels of noise, whether that's that visual noise, too much information, the auditory noise and then the internal noise, how they feed each other.
I mean, we were talking just before the recording started about some of the framing in our culture around sensitivity around highly sensitive people like, it's something that can be fixed, but I mean, sensitivity is an extraordinarily wonderful and important thing. And we're living in a world of so much sound and data and mental stimulation and exponential rise in all these different levels of it.
So it's to be expected that all of that sound and stimulus would be too much. It's natural. So, you know, a big part of this really is honoring what Florence Nightingale, for example, hundreds of years ago, 150 years ago identified as you know, noise is the most cruel absence of care against a person's sick or well, and this was someone in the most intense situation in hospitals, wounded people, she still recognized this damage that noise could do to our abilities to adapt and heal. Yeah. And the way that noise can proliferate within the consciousness, as you were leading to when we're in a place where there's a kind of noise, where someone for example is. She gave the example of someone just out of earshot, talking about a patient's case that would lead the mind wondering, well social media is designed to maximize that because that state of continual wondering is what drives the continual addictive function.
This question of public policy. It's like, how do we recognize the value of silence? Going back to what we were talking about before with GDP, it's something that can't be quantified easily, but something that is much more of an underpinning of human wellbeing in a deep way. How do we recognize the value of silence to the point that we could do serious cost benefit analyses of silence and noise? Because so much of the time in our society, we say, well, all the noise, you know, that amplified jet ski, that guy must be having a good time. It's good for economic development, therefore let it happen. Convenience addiction that we see at all these different levels of society. If it's producing some good for some individual somewhere or makes it possible to access some information. Therefore it must be worth it, but it's really important too, that we think about some of these costs that might be hidden. Some of the social costs, that we're not internalizing.
Clare Kumar: Oh, I love that you brought up Florence Nightingale and her, you know, her intuitive and now proven, you know, the results of noise on our bodies and the effects. And so she was right bang on. It really strikes me that as we've, you know, evolved the working world and our structures, we've taken a factory experience and we've tried to put knowledge workers or people using their minds creatively in a factory environment. And we've not thought through whether it's healthcare or office work or coding, we haven't thought about what's humane for a human animal, you know, to ask somebody to sit in a chair for eight hours. Uh, sorry, I don't think that's a great idea. And, to, you know, the expectation that we're able to focus without breaks. So you talk about the smoke break. I love that too. You talk–I mean, I think about, you know, kindergarten and there was in the morning, there was always a nap. My son, when he went to senior kindergarten, there was no nap. I'm like the kids are tired. They need rest and guess what? Grownups do too. you know? And if we've got anybody with any kind of neurodivergency, we need more of 'em. So, yeah, how do we get that understanding built in? I think there's opportunity, I'm sensing there's some opportunity as people have through the pandemic, many people have had the opportunity to redefine their work life integration conversation and how they can construct rest and more movement and all of that. Did you notice any of that as you were writing through this period? The book was just recently released, right? Yeah. So, have you noticed a shift or any kind of greater tuning in. Do you think that's part of the great resignation that there's more of an appreciation of some kind of silence and some kind of better well being through the changes people have made.
Leigh Marz: Well, one thing we noticed is that, well people had some pretty different experiences of what COVID and pandemic did to their soundscape for some of us it meant working from home, working with many people in our home and negotiating that soundscape and then having your house also double as a or triple, rather as a schoolhouse.
And so that was our case for both of us, with young kids. So that created a different environment. And at the same time people were noticing. Bird song in their yard and really the traffic also, you know, lessened there for a bit. And there were, they weren't dealing with that commute, which can have all kinds of auditory experiences. So I think that the best way to put it is that this experience, this collective experience, has shaken up and shifted and created an experience of at least increased awareness of the choices we make, some choices that were taken from us or shifted or whatever, and then the impact of that. So it does feel very much like this is a good time to have this conversation.
And so we do point readers towards the irony in the workplaces that you might be starting a conversation in order to address quiet and the different needs and different types of workers and different types in terms of their style, but also different types of content. Like maybe you're working on finances or you're a coder, like you mentioned, or you're a writer, then you may need a really focused, quiet kind of environment. Whereas sales and marketing needs something different. And so that's where a lot of these tensions lie. And then you can maybe have extroverts and introverts. And people who like to work individually, individual content, and team workers, you know, all that kind of stuff. These are all these different things, so one thing we say is you can't assume your needs for quiet or other people's needs for quiet are exactly the same. And just to open the dialogue and to start having some agreements about how we can do, we can find new norms and not default to, you know, let's stay loud or that convenience addiction that Justin was talking about where “Oh, if I just, you know, we don't have any walls and we're all open space. So I'm just gonna, that means I can just interrupt you at any time.” Or there's an assumption of constant connectivity or there's an assumption that every meeting is an hour long meeting. Why? Why are we doing that? So to really examine what are we expecting of ourselves in terms of that stimulus on the auditory level, on the informational connectivity level, and then what that's doing to our actual ability to focus and create strategy and do good work and you know, if that's what we're doing together, what the impact is.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. It makes me think of, I recently ran a leadership workshop at a university for a full day and I knew I was going to have their room of about 40 people talking together at small tables at one point. And I thought, okay, I'm gonna try something that I never see happen, but I'm gonna try it and I'm gonna cross my fingers it works. And before we got into group conversation, I asked everybody to speak to each other in their quietest voice possible to just be heard by the person at the table. And I made this invitation so that the room noise wouldn't go up and I gave them a cue, this is what I'm gonna do if we get loud, and we never got loud.
Leigh Marz: Ugh, that sounds dreamy.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, it was. I also scheduled time in the afternoon, so I could go take a 20 minute nap and make sure I could have my full energy for the day. So there were– it's this opportunity to design in and recognize what we need and have some intentionality in the experience.
And so there's a great episode. Episode two, I talked to HOK, which is a global design architecture firm. And we talk about designing for neurodiversity and making sure there's places for hyper and hyposensitivity to your point Leigh, that, you know, people are looking for a different kind of stimulation to focus too. Right? And so, yeah, I think, I feel like we're on the cusp of something and I'm hoping we are, and we can embed it in, especially with a little I'm hoping it lasts a little longer, employee leverage. To be able to say, you know what, there's opportunity in the job market to find an environment that's really gonna support me.
And can we not, then now have leaders thinking, “Oh my gosh, I need to make a place where everybody wants to work.” Right? And that people can find themselves there. That's kind of my great hope. But yeah, just a simple concept of designing quieter spaces and designing some even fluctuation through the day to come back to silence.
So that was a lot of me talking. I apologize for that, but you've made me remember that. I wanna come back now to–There are a number of definitions of silence in the book. And I thought each of them was unique and special in a way and I'm wondering if there are any that really stand out to you that you would like to share with listeners because we framed a lot of the noise part of the equation, but we haven't given beauty, shared the beauty that you've discovered in your research through cultures, through wisdom, traditions, just so listeners when you dive into this book, expect a spiritual exploration of your relationship to your values and to what has been out there in terms of appreciating sound and naming it. So what comes up for you two with your relationship to sound and how you define it now?
Justin Zorn: You know, one good place to start maybe is just this question. “What is silence? What is noise and what is silence?” And we think of silence, you know, as having a couple different levels to it. You know at one level silence is the absence of noise. And noise for us is the absence of unwanted distraction, unwanted interference. It's not all sound or information, but it's the unwanted interference with
Clare Kumar: Oh–I just have to laugh because there's potentially unwanted interference right here on my desk. I can hear Elliot.
Justin Zorn: That's a cuddly unwanted noise. Yeah. You know, but we're talking about, you know, the jackhammer and the guy with the water ski amplification.
Clare Kumar: Elliot, hasn't knocked over this before, which he has, and I'm showing like– I'm gonna move it because it's a metal can with scissors and it's gone clattering in an interview before. So I'm like, and I have a glass of water. I'm like strategically moving things on my desk, thinking we don't want any unwanted sounds Elliot.
Leigh Marz: That's it. That's it. It's not so cut and dry.
Justin Zorn: I think part of it is, you know, we don't wanna be too, you know, too precious about it, like we don't want any unwanted sounds. A cuddling cat can be a wonderful thing who you've invited lovingly into your–
Clare Kumar: That's right? This is his spot in the afternoon. He missed it today, cause I was out at the gallery, but he's like, I need some desk time. So he's here and he's purring. And so if anybody can hear that in the background, I hope you find it as soothing a sound as I do.
Justin Zorn: So, I feel like puring is the antithesis of noise. You know, puring is a sign of that flow state, but you know, for us, it's like that noise we describe, for example, as that ring of a Twitter notification interfering with a moment of deep connection with a friend. Or, you know, at the level of when unwanted mental rumination comes in, when you're watching your daughter play Cyclops in her school play, it's like what's interfering with our ability to consciously choose how to live.
So yes, it can be the little thing, you know, the purring or knocking over a glass of water. That could be it for sure. But it's that unwanted really unwanted interference. That's making claims on our consciousness that, in our ears, on our screens, in our thoughts, interfering with our perception and intention. But for us, as we started exploring this with all sorts of people, neuroscientists and poets and activists, politicians, and all these extraordinary people.
We uncovered this idea that there's something deeper to silence than the absence of noise. It's also this presence unto itself. And that's really what we get into with some of these explorations we share. Leigh I don't know if you wanna share.
Leigh Marz: Yeah, I'll say that. So we did do a lot of work into the defining of noise so we could understand that distinction from sound and data and thought, but with silence we felt the only right thing to do is to keep it spacious and actually to invite in these many amazing beings that we spoke to help shape the definition. So we turned to Gordon Hamptons, acoustic ecologist, who goes all over the world to record the quietest places on earth, to preserve them and to raise awareness about them and their endangerment, frankly. Yeah. So he describes silence as time undisturbed and silence as the think tank of the soul.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. Like how can we compromise or marginalize that, right?
Leigh Marz: The think tank of the soul. I think it’s, you know, not such a good idea, yeah. Pir Shabda Kahn just to give a sense of the difference here, the diversity here, Pir Shabda Kahn. Sufi, teacher and mystic, says “Silence is not silent at all - it's teaming with life and joy and ecstasy, but it's quiet of thoughts of the self, it's quiet of foolishness.” The Irish poet and theologian Padraig Ó Tuama says that “Silence is having enough space to ask yourself the really strange questions.”
You mentioned Tyson Yunkaporta, in Australia, the Aboriginal, well, he's a writer, teacher, carver of traditional Aboriginal tools and, and he says in his native language, there is no word for silence, cause it doesn't exist cause of nature abhors a vacuum. And we explore this in the book too, that there really maybe no thing is absolute silence. But in an internal presence, but he says “The best way to describe it is the ability to perceive a true signal.” What is true? What is needing our attention? He mentions that “That signal comes from the law of the land”, right? Other people meant “That true signal comes from what's in your heart.”
So these are very–this is not just a nuisance, right? This is not just an annoyance, an inconvenience. This is our ability to have this think tank of the soul, to be connected to joy, ecstasy, you know, teaming with life and our ability to connect to these true signals, what matters to us, what we intend with our time and how we perceive and what we do in this precious life, it's a big deal.
Clare Kumar: It is a big deal. Yeah. It's a big, big deal. And it's interesting when I come back to thinking, okay, what kind of persuasive invitations can we make to leaders and policy makers? I mean, we go in with arguments of noise and stress and heart attacks, and the fact that you can live by an airport and think you're used to the sound, but it's still having a negative effect on your heart, right? And so I think hopefully there's a confluence of invitation and evidence that shape it's space, space designers, it's culture shapers. Everyone has an opportunity to think in the moments that you're in charge of where whatever is in your sphere or sphere of influence or your control, you've got an opportunity to also invite more quiet and more reflection and more opportunities to receive those signals that are so important. Leigh and Justin, I could talk to you for days, this is very clear to me. I wonder if we could end with, perhaps there are three steps towards the beginning of the book that you invite readers to take. If you're gonna boil it down to three things, I'm taking it from page 10, for anybody who wants to grab the book and read it, but I thought I'd throw it back to you to perhaps give the invitation to our highly sensitive folks out there and the people who wanna support them better. Here's the invitation. If we're gonna really summarize it for you.
Leigh Marz: Go ahead, Justin,
Justin Zorn: Do you have it up Leigh?
Leigh Marz: I don't. I just well I could say–
Clare Kumar: Shall I,
Leigh Marz: You remind us of those. We know what they are, but just how they, we can just put a little information– add a little information there.
Clare Kumar: So for sure. Let me give you the three and then I'll let you guys close it out.
Leigh Marz: Perfect.
Clare Kumar: The first one is to pay attention to the noise and the interference, what you were talking about. Like what's getting in the way, like, you've got to notice what the interruptions are and really be honest with yourself about what those are. Then there's the invitation to perceive these small pockets of peace and to seek them out, that's part of step two. And then three, which I really like and I realize my love is really good at this. He likes to go for five hour hikes. Cultivating spaces of profound silence from time to time this deep forest bathing, this really need to be connected with that greater experience, so the self is quieted and you're in this humble experience. So those are the three.
Justin Zorn: You said it better than I could.
Clare Kumar: Haha! Can you tell? I just, I mean, I really sincerely adored this book. I've absorbed it and I'm gonna read it again because there was such a love– I loved the language.
Number one, I had to look up things, “imminent”. I didn't know. I knew imminent, but I didn't know emanent. And I didn't know “anechoic chamber” at one of these places where– and it's so wild, right? Where if you go in, you think you want peace, you think you want the absence of sound. No, you don’t.
No, you don't, that's alarming, that induces stress and this concept of eustress. Listeners if you're interested in really taking a deep dive and really exploring the profound value of silence and just a way to connect to it, and then opportunities that you might curate and invite it in this is the book to read.
Leigh Marz: Thank you so much, Clare. That was so beautifully put.
Justin Zorn: A joy.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining me. So listeners, go grab a copy and get quiet. Make some time to dive in and enjoy this beautiful work from Leigh and Justin.
Justin Zorn: Thank you, Clare. Good wishes to you. Gratitude.
Clare Kumar: Thank you.