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He who does not know
how to be silent
will not know
how to speak.
Decimius Magnus Ausonius
310 – 394 Latin poet/teacher
Let us be silent,
that we may hear the
whispers of the gods
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882, American poet

Learning to learn series

The role of silence in learning

Stresses and responsibilities can negatively impact your preparation and performance
before engaging with a critical task and/or considering longer range options in your life.

Before consideration and engagement, pause to clear your mind of distractions.

Create an environment, beginning with silence,
concentrate and focus forward your energies.
Remove as many disturbances as possible: cell phone and live conversations,
music and extraneous noise, visual distractions, etc.

This short one minute exercise is a beginning:

Applications:

Immediate tasks:

Use silence to focus on performing your best on an immediate task
to the level of your preparation, and perhaps beyond.
Specifically it is not concentrating on the task itself,
but rather clearing your mind in preparation to concentrating on the task,
and gathering your energies to maximize performance.
Note:  It is no substitute for inadequate preparation!

Reference the following guides on performing well in their situations,
then incorporate silence, either in your preparation,
or just before the event itself to eliminate distractions
in order to focus on the task at hand:

Long range planning:

Centering yourself through silence can help you determine
the right path for what you are considering and need to plan for.

This step precedes concentrating or considering and developing options.
However, silence, and openness to alternatives that may arise out of this silence,
can play a role in the problem solving process.

Logistics of finding "silence"

When:
Early mornings or late nights can provide times when all is still, even in busy dorms and households. Daytimes can provide breaks: schedule your calendar and develop a routine.
So also, if your schedule allows for group exercise, meditation, etc. you can intentionally allocate part of this time to clear your mind.

Where:
Socrates, Augustine and Gauguin praised the outdoors as a natural environment away from distractions of a busy life (but don't take your cell phone with you!). Locations include gardens, near-by woods, river walks, etc.
Residential retreats include a soothing hot bath, even out-of-the-way spots like work and laundry rooms where few like to go.
Urban oases include museums, libraries, even lesser-used public spaces.
Create your own space: even using headphones with the sound off, or adjusting furnishings of your study space or bedroom can make a difference.
Even in busy, noisy spaces you can find silence: focus on times between sounds or on still objects--even tables, chairs, walls, etc. that are fixed that can initiate your process.

How:
Creating silence takes practice, even discipline.
There are classes in meditation in (spiritual) centers that can offer guidance.
There are techniques in breathing that can assist: breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, deeply but comfortably.
Posture can facilitate, and also impede, striving for silence. Uncross your legs and arms, rest your hands in your lap, straighten your back, and gain a comfortable position to avoid fidgeting, etc.
Careful reading of spiritual texts, poetry, etc. can inspire silence, but also distract from the centering and creating the silent space within.

 

Learning series:

The Role of silence in learning | Concentrating while studying |
Taking one test | Oral exams | Interviews | Sporting/performing events |
Collective class exercises | Problem solving process


Application of silence
based upon practices of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Angelo Caranfa (retired) has written on silence as a foundation of learning and Katherine Schulz (School of Education, Mills College) on silence in the classroom and in teaching.
Flash exercise by
Karl Noelle, student, College of Design; Brad Hokanson, faculty, College of Design, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; edited/revised by Joe Landsberger.