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Jeruba's avatar

Have you ever known someone who took a vow of silence--and kept it?

Asked by Jeruba (45814points) October 2nd, 2012

Let’s say for thirty days or more.

I’m not talking about “the silent treatment”—silence as a social weapon—or about someone who lacks the power of speech. I’m speaking of something more like a monastic vow of silence taken for spiritual reasons and kept for some significant length of time, perhaps even for a lifetime.

And someone you know or knew personally.

Or perhaps yourself?

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28 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Yes, myself included, but only for a few days at a time, nothing of a long term or permanent nature. It is a great exercise in discipline and self watchfulness, and damn hard!

Adagio's avatar

A friend did a silent Vipassana meditation retreat for a week I think, possibly longer.

Pandora's avatar

@Coloma I just had a vision of someone saying something you find really offensive and you having to keep your mouth shut. LOL, I bet you would write a novel.
Oh, I would have a difficult time. I think I swore not to speak to my family for a weekend except for no and yes answers and I didn’t last a day. LOL
I went to a seminary once in 8th grade for a class trip and we saw some students there that we were told not to bother because they took a vow of silence for a while. For how long I don’t know but I think it was a final thing they had to do before they become deacons. But I did not know them personally.

Sunny2's avatar

I have a friend who went to India every year to meditate under a tree. It was a very silent place and he went for days without talking. It refreshed his mind.

augustlan's avatar

I’m not entirely sure that he didn’t speak at all, but a former jelly used to take (probably still does take) long trips to an abandoned family farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, for weeks and months at a time. He had no way of communicating with anyone while there, and was almost always alone. Of course, he may have spoken to himself. The house has no electricity, no running water, etc. The beautiful landscape and a good pond was all he needed. He said it was good for him to get completely unplugged from the world.

rooeytoo's avatar

There are a lot of trappist monks and nuns who take the vow and stick to it for years or until death. I don’t talk that much so I have never tried to stop.

JLeslie's avatar

I want to try it with my husband for a day or weekend. He would probably really enjoy the silence LOL. But, seriously, I would think if it is silent we would be less likely to dwell on worries about what needs to get done around the house or any negatives from the day. Maybe be more physical than usual? I’m also wondering if we would rest well that day? I have a feeling we would definitely wind up taking a nap.

Does the silence mean we can’t watch TV? Or, just that we ourselves must be mute for the day.

I think most of all we would appreciate being able to communicate. When I don’t say anything for an hour and we are in the same room, my husband always asks what’s wrong or wonders if I fell asleep. Kind of like a sacrifice to appreciate what you have, like during Lent or fasting on a religious holiday.

hearkat's avatar

Between talking to myself and the cats, I know I couldn’t do it. My fiancĂ© and I often go spans of time without speaking. We both enjoy quiet and are introverts by nature.

We do have a friend we’ve met on the web who has done month-long meditation retreats, but I’m not sure if they are completely silent. In fact, she’s at one now… I’ll ask her when she returns.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@augustlan I miss pete around here :(

Strauss's avatar

I attended a seminary for two years of high school. Although it was not a vow, per se, we had periods of disciplined silence, during which even communication by hand gestures was discouraged.

I have never taken a vow of silence, or endured a period of silence for more than a few hours. It seems like it would take a good deal of discipline.

Many monastics (nuns and monks) in various traditions, have taken vows of poverty, chastity, obedience (to the order). It takes an especially dedicated and disciplined person to take the big three, let alone some of the more austere vows, such as silence, or enter a cloistered community and eschew all contact with the outside world.

@augustlan I envy that jelly’s access to such an oasis.

Jeruba's avatar

As I noted in my details, I know there are monastics who live this way. I’ve read of such experiences in books; for instance, David Chadwick’s Thank You and Ok!: An American Zen Failure in Japan. I even watched most of a documentary about the silent life of monks who have taken this vow: Into Great Silence. (It was beautiful, but honestly, after a while I couldn’t stand it any longer.)

This question is about first-hand or second-hand experiences with chosen silence: personal experiences or those of someone you know.

I’ve done an all-day Zen sesshin (retreat) in silence, complete with hand gestures to communicate with the food servers. I don’t think I struggled so much with the silence per se; many’s the day that our household is as silent as a vault for long stretches of hours as we each follow our own pursuits. For me the struggle would be over the loss of the power of choice.

@JLeslie, I would love to hear what happens if you carry out this experiment with your husband.

lifeflame's avatar

I don’t know anyone personally but I was really inspired by John Francis, who managed to spend three decades without speaking. He talks about it here:

Bellatrix's avatar

When I was single after my marriage broke down, I often had weekends where I wouldn’t have anyone to speak to. They were ‘silent’ weekends but not by choice. There just wasn’t anyone to speak to unless I went out and sometimes I didn’t. I used to chat to people on the internet. So while I wasn’t ‘speaking’ and there was no sound (apart from keys clicking), I was not silent. What does silent mean in this context @Jeruba? To me, it would seem silence would mean a quiet the extends beyond not speaking. I hope I am making sense here.

ucme's avatar

No, but I know a few that I wish had.

Jeruba's avatar

@Bellatrix, what I had in mind was refraining from speech and vocal noises (which would include grunts and hmmms and other expressive utterances that aren’t technically verbal). I would assume that normal sonic vibrations such as those caused by handling dishes and cutlery, moving furniture, maintaining premises, and yes, touching keys, would not count as a breaking of silence, although I imagine that devout practitioners would try to keep all such noises to a minimum.

The vow part means that a person has consciously pledged to maintain silence and not just that the person has no one to talk to. It’s similar to the difference between fasting and starving (though not so drastic): one is a matter of choice and the other is privation.

I don’t know whether an involuntary sound such as laughter or a cry of pain would be considered breaking a vow. Can anyone here answer that?

In a monastic setting I do believe that there may be some necessity for writing brief notes, which wouldn’t count as speech; again, I’d welcome a knowledgeable answer.

Bellatrix's avatar

Thank you @Jeruba. It seems to me, we are having a conversation now, just not verbally… and I would have thought the purpose of remaining silent would be to quiet the mind? What would the purpose of simply being quiet be if you are still ‘speaking’ through text? Probably just the weird way my brain works. Not trying to take your thread off track here… I am just trying to understand the notion of ‘silence’ with the advent of technology that allows us to communicate well without words.

I understand there will be times, even in a monastery where silence is required, that notes or some method of communication will be required. I would imagine though, that sort of communication is also kept to a minimum.

Strauss's avatar

@Jeruba @Bellatrix when I was in the seminary, as mentioned above, we had certain periods of silence, for the purpose of promoting things like meditation, contemplation, silent prayer, introspection, etc. Except for the vow part, it seems to me that this was similar. We weren’t required to take a vow of silence, but were disciplined if we broke silence.

Hand gestures, notes and other types of silent communication were discouraged unless absolutely necessary (as in “you’re standing on my toe!” as well as communications from superiors). Hand gestures were acceptable at meals, but only as related to the meal itself. This had evolved to a series of commonly used gestures (“pass the salt please”).

This was long before digital communications. The closest thing to it was the typewriter. IMHO, I think things like blogs and journals would be acceptable, but immediate communications, such as IM’s and social media would not.

The occasional “ouch” usually brought forth some of the involuntary laughter, although they would both bring forth the scowl of the superior.

The longest I have gone in silence was probably a 40-hour stretch, mirroring a particular devotional ritual.

I have often thought of taking a retreat at a local monastery consisting of three days of silence and service; my role as dad has pretty much ruled that out the past 15 years or so.

Bellatrix's avatar

Thank you @Yetanotheruser. I really appreciate your explanation and your description connects with my ‘understanding’ of silence. I really like @Jeruba‘s question and I think it would be exceedingly and increasingly difficult for people to unplug themselves from all the communication devices that now exist and would make it hard to achieve that mental ‘silence’. I don’t think I could turn off everything. The radio/TV/computer and just be. It would be very hard. I freely admit I find it hard to ‘quieten’ my mind. ‘Going off the grid’ would be very hard for me.

rooeytoo's avatar

According to Wiki, trappists do not take a vow of silence but talking is to be at a minimum and idle chatter is not a good thing according to their religious beliefs.

Strauss's avatar

@rooeytoo That fits with what I have heard from the few Trappists I have known.

I once rode with a Trappist monk from Big Sur to San Francisco. We had good conversation, stopped for wine-tastings and listened to tapes of eastern monastic chants.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – I love gregorian chant, I have to see if I can find some to listen to.

Strauss's avatar

@rooeytoo I have a Gregorian Chant channel on my Pandora

rooeytoo's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – last time I checked Pandora won’t let me in because I am in Australia, but that makes me think of Jango, I bet they have it. I will check there. Cheers!

Strauss's avatar

@rooeytoo Here is a beautiful rendering of the Dies Irae. It was used in the Mass for the Dead. Also, check out Veni Creator Spiritus.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – that is spectacular, and I can remember singing it for something or other, could have been a requiem mass? Thank you for sharing.

Strauss's avatar

@rooeytoo Dies Irae is part of the Requiem Mass. The part is known as a tract, which replaces the “Alleluiah” in a Requiem Mass.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – that’s it then, when I was in high school some monsignor of note died and we sang at his mass. My favorite was Laudate Dominum which was always a graduation and triumphic sort of song. Do you know it?

Strauss's avatar

@rooeytoo Yes, I’m familiar with it. I’ll PM you rather than derail this thread further.

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