Be Quiet

creators discipline inspiration meditation practice Dec 14, 2023
Blog post: Be Quiet

The quieter you become, the more you can hear. - Ram Dass

Here I sit in a coffee shop, attempting to write. This has to be one of the loudest environments around. I can barely hear the scream of the steamer or the chatter of the patrons over the cranked Christmas music (’tis the season) bellowing inane and obscure holiday muzak. Which makes me wonder: what does it mean to really “be quiet?”

I recently spent many hours driving cross-country in my vehicle, alone, with no intentional auditory distractions. No music, no podcasts, no phone conversations. All electronics dormant and stowed for the duration.

This doesn’t imply the absence of sound, of course, especially because I was driving a full-size four-wheel-drive truck with a big motor and huge tires. At 75 miles-per-hour. At least I wasn’t intentionally engaging in auditory distraction.

So, discounting the locomotive drone, I was in a relatively “quiet” environment. In this context, however, “quiet” can’t be measured solely in terms of decibels.

Loudness Without Sound

Physical sound - the vibration of air molecules against our tympanic membranes (that’s “eardrums,” y’all) - can be distracting, even fatiguing. But there is a much louder distraction.

You may have heard it at 3:30 AM, when you were supposed to be sleeping. It is the incessant chatter of your thoughts. The uncontrollable temper tantrums of your monkey mind can drown out everything else in your environment and leave you awash in a tsunami of anxious agitation.

In fact, the absence of physical sound makes the mental noise LOUDER, in many cases. Common is the college student who finds it easier to concentrate with metal playing in the earbuds. I had a friend, a trauma surgeon, who blasted Metallica in the OR for particularly messy cases for the same reason.

There is ample research in psychology and neuroscience to posit why this might be the case but for our purposes, suffice to say that auditory silence can be more distracting than sound. This is especially true for repetitive, predictable music and for people performing repetitive, predictable tasks.

But what if you are trying to come up with a novel idea? (I mean novel as in “new,” but a novel idea for a novel still fits the paradigm…) What if you are trying to commune with your muse and find auditory stimulation to be too distracting?

The Case for Stillness

Your task is to still your random thoughts, which will tend to run amok now that there is no musical distraction to buffer them. You need to let your mind wander, but limit the range within which it can stray.

There is a peculiarly altered state of consciousness that facilitates intense - but loosely focused - attention. The goal is to allow thoughts and feelings to flow freely through your mind, but only as they relate to the task at hand.

I find this state of mind to be closely aligned with the “flow” state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi1, and Maslow’s “peak experience.”2 The experience is quietly exhilarating and massively productive. For me, it is the mental equivalent to the physical “runner’s high.” (In fact I suspect that writers write and painters paint and composers compose - at least in part - because of the “high” that this mental state induces. But that’s a topic for a different article.)

It is no small feat to train your mind to be quiet for everything but the focus of your intent. There are myriad methods to invoke this kind of clarity; I will describe my own practice.

How to STFU

For most Westerners who are not professional meditators, the ability to get the mind to “shut the f%@! up” is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is better to let the mind churn away but pay attention only to the thoughts and images that further our intent. The way to sustain this frame of mind is consistent with the development of proficiency at any art: practice.

Imagine that you need to create a poem or melody or a rough sketch of something. First, get a clear picture in your mind of what it is you want to accomplish. That is, picture the end goal. This part is the key to all the rest, so take your time and get some level of detail.

When I write, it is relatively simple: “I want to write a short story about a person who is alone at Christmas.” When I compose, it is more nebulous: “I want a melody that involves a melancholy feel, but references familiar Christmas tunes.” I suppose there is a parallel process for fine and graphic artists, but that’s definitely not my bailiwick, so I can’t describe it for you. (If you are an artist, please feel free to comment your own process in the comments.)

Now start to create. Begin to write; experiment with the first few notes. Very soon, if not immediately, specific details will begin to emerge. “This is an older person who has been abandoned by his family.” “I want this to be in the key of D-sharp minor (it is the saddest key, after all3) with a Dorian modal feel to the melody.”

Excellent! You’re rolling!

Here’s the trick. If you have trouble getting started or when your mind invariably wonders while you create: Stop and bring that initial picture of the end goal to mind. Then look where you left off and resume, thinking about the end product.

Don’t berate yourself for being “stuck” or drifting off task. Just refocus and carry on. No matter how many times it takes.

With practice, you will find that the refocusing lasts longer and is less frequently needed.

Be Quiet

So learn to be quiet, mentally, except for the ideas that help your creation.

This is the muse.

It doesn’t matter if the resulting inspiration comes from within our without. What is important is that you develop the capacity for it to come through.

And that, like all worthy art, takes practice.

Next week, I’ll be writing about how to fill your now focused-but-quiet mind with fresh inspiration. Stay tuned…


1. Csikszentmihályi M (1990). FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper and Row.
2. Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak experiences. London: Penguin Books Limited.
3. Inside music joke: In 1806, composer Christian Schubart wrote that D-sharp minor is “…is the key of brooding despair, of blackest depression, of the most gloomy condition of the soul.”

I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, counselor and professor.

 To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and Twitter (now called X) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account.

 Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming in 2024, wherever you download your podcasts.


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