EPISODE 380
Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz
Why We Need To Be Quiet

Mark speaks with Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, authors of Golden and partners in Astraea Strategies. In the episode, Justin and Leigh share their compelling findings on stillness, silence, and the impact that noise is having on our bodies, our health, and social & economic lives.

Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz
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Show Notes

Today, I speak with Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, authors of Golden and partners in Astraea Strategies. In the episode, Justin and Leigh share their compelling findings on stillness, silence, and the impact that noise is having on our bodies, our health, and social & economic lives.

Key Takeaways:

  • Silence isn’t just the lack of noise. It’s something different, a different quality altogether. Silence is a place for connection to your authenticity, and you can feel when people’s minds are quiet or they’re loud inside.
  • Our world is noisy, in many ways. Justin and Leigh share the Three Levels of Noise: auditory, informational, and internal. Auditory noise today is empirically louder than it’s ever been, but pales in comparison to the informational noise boost we’ve seen in recent decades, which stifles our abilities to perceive & think creatively.
  • Noise is not our friend. Together we discuss the impact noise can have on our thoughts, our actions, our bodies, and our economy. And it impacts the whole globe, even some of the more remote tribes in the Amazon.
  • The key is to focus on “ma.” The Japanese aesthetic principle called ma represents negative space and pure potentiality. When we can cultivate appreciation for the stillness, silence, and pure potentiality of the lack of noise… we find peace in a busy world. 

 

Mark Divine  0:05  

Coming up on the Mark Divine Show,

Unknown Speaker  0:07  

Florence Nightingale, 150 years ago during the Crimean War, was serving the British Army in a hospital outside Istanbul, where she recognized noise as one of the biggest hindrances to healing. She saw that the noise was driving the fight or flight response in the nervous system, which was in turn driving both difficulty healing at a physical level and also driving conditions that we would call PTSD.

Mark Divine  0:05  

Coming up on the Mark Divine Show,

Unknown Speaker  0:07  

Florence Nightingale, 150 years ago during the Crimean War, was serving the British Army in a hospital outside Istanbul, where she recognized noise as one of the biggest hindrances to healing. She saw that the noise was driving the fight or flight response in the nervous system, which was in turn driving both difficulty healing at a physical level and also driving conditions that we would call PTSD.

Mark Divine  0:40  

Hi, I’m Mark Divine and this is the Mark Divine Show. On this Show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate and resilient and thoughtful leaders. My guests include notable folks from all walks of life, meditation monks, Stoic philosophers, psychedelic researchers, and even people who teach mindfulness to Congress. That brings me today’s guests. Today’s guests are Justin Zorn, and Leigh Marz, authors of the new book golden the power of silence in a world of noise. Justin and Leigh talk about going beyond ordinary rules and tools of the mind to help dial down the noise and find pristine attention. Leigh is a collaboration and leadership coach for major universities, corporations, federal agencies, and a longtime student of pioneering researchers and practitioners, and the ritualized use of psychedelic medicines in the West. Justin has served as both a strategist and a meditation teacher in Congress. He’s a Harvard and Oxford trained specialist in the Economics and Psychology of human thriving. And both have published extensively in the Harvard Business Review, and others. And they are cofounders of a company called Astraea Strategies, a consultancy that bridges contemplation and action, helping leaders and teams envision and communicate solutions to complex challenges. 

Excited for this topic. So thanks for joining me from Justin in Santa Fe, and Leigh up in Berkeley. Welcome to the Mark Divine Show.

Leigh Marx  2:06  

Thanks for having us.

Justin Zorn  2:07  

Nice to meet you, Mark. Thank you for having us.

Mark Divine  2:09  

I was pretty excited to see this kind of pop up into my radar because the topic is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been studying Zen since I was 21 years old. Tell us about how you guys came to collaborate. You’re together in your business, your partners in Astraea Strategies? Do they say that? Right?

Leigh Marz  2:25  

Yeah, Astraea Strategies.

Mark Divine  2:26  

You know, tell us how you guys came to work together and to then ultimately collaborate on this book.

Justin Zorn 2:31  

I was coming from Capitol Hill, leaving that life behind and looking to be engaged in the public policy process, thinking about how we make social change and issues that matter in a way that goes a little bit deeper than politics in a way that takes into account people’s real core values, the work of mindfulness like I was teaching mindfulness on Capitol Hill. And that’s really Leigh’s specialty, how to go deep with people through coalition building in this kind of work.

 

Mark Divine  3:00  

Okay, and so Leigh, what, what was your work before you guys came together? I mean, how did you guys connect,

Leigh Marz  3:05  

I convene and facilitate processes with cross sector groups. So it might be people from government entities and academics and business sector, as well as NGOs that are working together on a shared problem. So worked with a lot of people trying to get toxic chemicals out of our products, and worked with climate change teams and NASA doing multigenerational collaboration. Sounds a little similar to what you’re trying to do just to foster that deep connection. And so I was in the midst of that work, speaking with Justin about this. And in these sort of long conversations we were having, he asked me if there’s anything he could offer in return. And he had been doing a ton of writing. So he’s written a lot of articles on wellness, wellbeing, economics, all kinds of a huge range of things. And I said, How about we write something together? And he said, let’s write something together. So we pitch an article to Harvard Business Review on silence. And I love that you said, you know, you love this topic, you saw it right away, and you resonated with it. I feel like that’s kind of… that’s how it hit us too. But had no idea where this was going to go. And we certainly didn’t necessarily think that the Harvard Business Review audience would take to it like they did. But it seemed to resonate. It became widely, a widely shared article, one of their most shared in the last few years. And so we took some steps back to think about what would it mean to write a book about silence with these audiences in mind, these cross sector are trying to get things done in the world, audiences in mind.

Mark Divine  4:30  

Yeah, it’s certainly we’re at a point where I think many different kind of interest groups are ripe for looking at doing something different, something new, you know, a pandemic certainly shocked people into awakening, you know, there’s more of a willingness to take things like mindfulness or practices from the contemplative traditions more seriously. So it’s exciting, I think to me, and it’s curious to me, Justin, you said you did work and teaching people mindfulness on Capitol Hill. I remember… is it Tim Ryan, who was the mindfulness guy?

Justin Zorn  5:01  

He calls himself the Rust Belt Yogi, sometimes he’s from Youngstown, Ohio, right on an old industrial town. And you know, he got into mindfulness just because he needed to de-stress in his life.

Mark Divine  5:13  

I find that fascinating. He must be like a fish out of water on Capitol Hill, you know, when I was there, and you know, the perception is just this cacophony of people just screaming to be heard. And so I’m curious, like, how many clients did you have? And what did this look like? Was it when you’re climbing a pretty steep hill?

Justin Zorn  5:32  

You know, it happened in a few different ways. I was working for a member of Congress right out of grad school. And he and I both had an interest in meditation. He asked me if I’d guide him in a little bit of meditation before he go on, on TV a couple times, and it just became a habit of a really nice way to connect and help him find some centeredness. Tim Ryan became a friend. And yeah, as you mentioned, he launched this mindfulness program, both with members and staff, there were different types of programs, but all kinds of really good teachers from around the world came in to teach. And I was the one staffer who was also a meditation teacher. So I started doing some teaching. 

And I was really surprised, Mark, by how people took to it. It was really bipartisan. You know, we had folks there representing different parts of the country, we had senior policy staffers, some of whom were, you know, West Coasters with good yoga practices. And others were, you know, corporate attorneys who were, had gotten into mindfulness practice from working on Wall Street. And they were all there to gather, you know, people with different ideologies. I remember the first time I taught, it was in one of these, you know, very official looking rooms, in the Rayburn House Office Building, you know, with the American flag and the fancy gold molding on the walls, and everybody’s sitting there in their suits. And I just remember entering that room. And it was quiet after I gave some initial words and instruction, but the room felt so loud, because everyone was in their head, like, thinking about the votes, thinking about their careers, thinking about, you know, relationship issues they were dealing with, over those 20 minutes, there was a shift that happened. And I mean, you don’t have to believe in ESP or anything like that, to recognize, when you’re in a room full of people whose thoughts are really loud, you can feel it. And when you’re in the room of people who are concentrating, and with the breath, you know, not so loud in their heads, you can feel that energy. And I just remember that shift happening on Capitol Hill. And I remember thinking like, hey, if this can happen here, maybe it can happen anywhere.

Mark Divine  7:37  

That’s fascinating. And I agree with that interesting distinction, that silence isn’t just the lack of noise, right? It’s really something different. It’s a different quality altogether, in my company. And what we teach in my program is a period of silence where we focus on the breath and called Box breathing before every significant meeting now, and it’s kind of my dream and vision that you would see this become commonplace in the future, because it’s an incredible way to steal the chatter and also to harmonize or synchronize at a vibrational level, everyone who’s coming together to solve a whatever that problem is, or to discuss it a challenge. Are there any discussions leading your guys are having like that? Are you literally at the level where you’re just trying to get people to buy into the view that this is a good thing for them, maybe at a health level, which is where a lot of people start?

Leigh Marz  8:26  

We take many approaches, and definitely health is a big one. We’re looking at how, what the impact of noise is, on our brains, on our bodies, on our mood, on our relationships, on our, what we intend to do with our time and our precious life here. You know, kind of taking layers and layers and layers and then the benefits of what as well of silence, how it offers us that open space, that place to really find and discern what is true for us. What is it we really want? What is it we really intend to get that kind of clarity, like you said, it’s more than the absence of noise. It’s more than just those things not happening, those bad things not happening. It opens up different doors for you, for each of us, I think that help us discern. And we really think of this book as a non-meditators guide to getting beyond the noise because while it might be meditation, that is one’s way, your way, and has been our way, we’re a bit of lapsed meditators at this stage right now, just our life stage, with how we’re raising kids and just the way our work worlds are built. But we’re interested in the kind of silence, the kind of quiet we can find and feel and discern is really, truly feeding us in that way. So that might be dancing, it might be some pretty interesting like flow state activities, might be getting out into nature. We’re interested in all those. Might be that box breathing, simple, a simple practice that you can drop into any anywhere. But hopefully the reader through this process gets attuned to what is really bringing them quiet. What’s really bringing them that silence versus what maybe everyone else is doing.

Mark Divine  9:57  

That’s super valuable. My experience is that, our perspectives that even the term meditation has, you know, it’s lost all of its power, it’s been kind of like bastardized, in a sense, it really is something that is a process, and also is something that is very personal or personalizable. And yet it wasn’t really brought to this culture that way and nor taught that way in this culture. And so people really struggle with doing it because they think it’s just one thing you know, you got to quiet your mind, or mindfulness is watch your thoughts, and you don’t recognize that every situation might be slightly different, you might need a different tool for a different situation. And also, every mind is different. And so you know, different processes or tools would be used to train a mind. So they could even do basic fundamental, you know, concentration training, or mindful awareness training, or, you know, those types of things. So I love that you’re kind of demystifying it and bringing more practical approaches, so that people can stop thinking, Oh, I don’t meditate, or that meditation is not for me, just take it off the table right?

Justin Zorn  10:57  

That’s it, Mark. And another piece of it is that often people who’ve tried meditation, and don’t do it, we just noticed a tendency where they’re beating themselves up these days and saying, Oh, why aren’t I meditating more, or feeling like you were saying, like, you know, they gotta have the right cushion, they gotta have the right app, the right practice. And what we’re talking about here is just something that’s so fundamental to being a human being the capacity to tune into the space, where nothing is making claims on our consciousness.

Mark Divine  11:28  

Yeah, I love that. I often use the word stillness, which I think is synonymous with how you’re using the term silence. One of our practices we call stillwater runs deep, which is a metaphor for the stillwater of river that goes around the corner, and let’s say gets really deep, as opposed to the turbid choppiness of the rapids. Clearly, you know, we’re looking for that stillwater that runs deep, which is really kind of more of an awakened awareness, as opposed to being merged with your thoughts and identifying those thoughts. And you get caught up in that energy, you know, over long term, that’s where the hyper arousal comes from, because we’re just caught up in these thoughts. And we’re constantly being triggered into that arousal state. And then, you know, that leads to long term health challenges, because you don’t have the off button, you don’t have the de-arousal response train. Right. So it goes offline, actually.

Justin Zorn  12:19  

And part of this that we explore in the book, is that as a culture, we’re trained to think that that arousal state you’re talking about is productivity, is what’s right, what’s good. You know, we so often are trained to mistake stress for aliveness. And it’s something built into you know, how GDP is designed. For example, we measure the sound and stimulus we create, but we don’t measure the value of the silence, you know, the value of the time in nature, the value, the time that’s not caught up in the sound and stimulus. I love what you’re saying about stillness as synonymous with silence, because stillness is, you know, it’s an embodied thing. You know, when we tap into the stillness, we can feel this presence. One of the things we wrote in that, that Harvard Business Review article we wrote a few years ago is that, yeah, this is about being able to take a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities, having to think of what to say. Because it’s like, if we’re constantly in this space where we’ve got to be clever, we got to fill the space, we got to be entertaining, we got to own Twitter, whatever it might be, what does that do for the nervous system? And then in turn, you know, when we look at what happens to the nervous system, what does that do to our capacity to find creative generative ideas, solutions to the problems we’re facing? 

Mark Divine  13:38  

Yeah, I agree, I love that you take a personal, interpersonal, economic and societal look at this idea of silence, because they all do kind of interrelate, right. The collective impact of a culture that doesn’t embrace silence, or that is constantly busy, busy, busy, task focused and hyper aroused, you know, this pretty extreme, and can lead to a lot of cultural dysphoria, you know, and, and then, and I think we’ve seen that with the great resignation, and people hitting the wall and burnout. And that was just because we added a little extra dose of stress called a pandemic, you know, but if you had these skills, of tapping into your inner nature in silence, then the pandemic was just another event that happened outside, you didn’t define your entire life and caused these major breakdowns. In fact, those people who had these skills thrived during this pandemic. 

And I think that right there is, you know, shows a contrast between like, you know, the skill of, of stillness versus the skill of not having practice for stillness, one leads to thriving regardless of what’s going on outside of you, and the other leads to you being kind of a slave to the environment and to the economy and to the you know, what’s going on in the world. A sense of control is external, right? External locus of control is a classic stoic principle, but it’s very true here in this concept right at the top, huh?

Leigh Marz 15:00  

Yeah, we do, actually, we’re playing with that tension of the things that are beyond our control outside of our sphere of control. But we’re very interested in looking at systemic change, what policies, what regulations, what values we can collectively hold, what cultural aspects are where silence is being honored. So we’re looking at that big picture thing, but also looking at what we can do as individuals in our lives. What do we, where do we have a sphere of control? Where do we have a sphere of influence, we turn to a teacher, the primary teacher in this book, who demonstrates that is a man incarcerated on death row for a crime that the preponderance of evidence and our belief is that he did not commit. And so he’s in a cell for 23 hours out of 24 hour day, still finding a way to make his way to quiet, quiet those thoughts to deal with a cacophony of sound bouncing off those steel walls and the mesh wire and the constant hollering and the Lo Fi radios and party beats that are just going all the time? How does he find his quiet in there? Well, he does. Somehow he finds his locus of control, he teaches us about that principle. But so there’s an element of where we can take, you know, that control that we have, as well as the bigger systemic issues that we want to assure people, it’s not like you’re doing it wrong, that you cannot focus. It’s like you’re, you know, you’re messing up terribly. It’s like, the whole system is driving towards noise, we are addicted to noise as a society.

Mark Divine  16:30  

What was going through my mind when you’re talking about that is back to this idea of noise versus stillness. I’ve also been inside a prison and talked to lifers. And I’ve, too, found it fascinating because the ones that I’ve talked to have been really, really peaceful and calm and pretty well adjusted to the reality of their situation. And it got me thinking about, like, you know, prison, there’s all these noise in an office building, like you said, there’s, it’s just noise constantly. And so when you have a practice of stillness, you’re not like disassociating, or blocking out the noise, right? There’s, you can practice desensitization. Pratyahara is the yogic term. But it doesn’t mean you don’t hear the noise, just means you’re not disturbed by it. You know, the noise is happening. And it’s happening in some kind of distant place, you’re aware of it, but you’re not disturbed by it. Because you’re not identifying with the aspect of your being, which is, you know, the sensory body, right? So you’re done identifying with a much bigger aspect of your being, which is, you know, your awakened awareness or conscious body, right, or the causal body. You know, that’s tough for a lot of people to wrap their non-metaphysical heads around. So how do you guys address that in your work?

Leigh Marz 17:37  

Jarvis kind of does that for us. Because he says, early on, when he was engaging this desire to be quiet, and sitting down to meditate, he is an accomplished Tibetan teacher at this point, he would say that early on, it seems like the men would get real loud, just as he was sitting down to meditate. And how was that? How did they know I’m meditating right now? But then his teaching to us is that he had to learn how to quiet the noise by quieting his response to the noise, which is exactly what you’re saying. So in case I hadn’t said his name, his name is Jarvis J. Masters, but he’s the one bringing us this, what would you add Justin?

Justin Zorn  18:14  

I was gonna say the same exact thing is teaching, he brought us about quieting the noise by quieting the response to the noise. And like, Mark, you were talking about this example of the pandemic. I mean, the pandemic was so strange, because at some level, it was like, an easing of the noise of the world. At the same time, it got so noisy in our heads, I mean, it got noisy in our homes to, because, you know, all of a sudden, our offices became our homes and our homes tripled as school houses for many of us. And then just all the uncertainty, the uncertainty of, you know, the culture and politics, the uncertainty of work, created this level of internal noise, you know, so in the book, we look at different levels of noise. You know, there’s the auditory noise of the world, which is empirically, you know, louder than it’s been, according to all sorts of different research organizations that we explore in the book. But it’s no question that the informational noise is exponentially louder. And we’re just dealing with orders of magnitude, more information than we ever have, which brings its benefits. But it also brings a lot of challenges in terms of where we hit our upper limits of our cognition and our ability to perceive. And it’s really tough to measure a third level of noise, which is the internal noise, which in talking to some of the world’s greatest neuroscientists, we heard from many of them, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, working in academic institutions, that we have all these proxies of how loud it is inside the consciousness. And according to some estimates, now, Ethan Krause at the University of Michigan was an expert on this, says we have to listen to something like 320 State of the Union Addresses worth of internal dialogue every single day. 

Mark Divine  19:58  

I’ve heard that they’re like Sixty to One Hundred Thousand, you know, thoughts streams. I mean, it’s fascinating what you talked about earlier, like the different ways that you said that you can find to, you know, just calm, that stream down, right. So if you imagine, like your mind is a river that’s running between the banks of the body, it can be a raging river, or it can be calm and still. And so one way to prove that point is to go out and camp in nature, in an area with no cell phone coverage or internet coverage. And within 24 hours, right, everything just starts to slow and settle down. It’s almost like the dirt that’s all stirred up in a really choppy river representing your thoughts just starts to settle to the bottom because you’re not being triggered constantly by whatever stimulus you’re taking on. And so your thoughts will naturally settle down. You spend five days in nature, you’re going to get even calmer, you spend a month in nature, even calmer. And I remember coming out of nature stints and back to kind of quote unquote reality and just being jarred with how freakin fast everything seems, how much how loud, everything seems. So that’s, I’m certain that you discuss nature as a practice or a tool in the book. But what are some of the other ways non-meditation, you know, we use air quotes around that, that we can find a little bit of silence?

Leigh Marz  21:13  

We interview, a professor of Bio-behavioral Health and Medicine, Dr. Joshua M. Smyth out of Penn State. And he does these large scale stress reduction studies, mindfulness studies as well. He’s the one when we asked him what internal silence might be like, we wanted a definition, we’re sort of cornering him for that. He said, you know, quiet is what people think quiet is. And he told us about a participant in this study who found his inner peace, inner calm, by doing chainsaw carving of large hunks of wood, he would find a flow state there, this is pointed us towards like, oh, all these flow states. 

So what actually like rather than think that any of these are better than or whatever what’s best is what you’ll do, what’s best is what brings you quiet, where you find that maybe day to day snippets or pockets of quiet, or deep, more immersive, rapturous silence, whatever that is. So we do talk about things that could be like pausing and taking a breath, any point in the day, or just thinking about moments of transition a little differently, including, like, when you find yourself in a line, you know, waiting for something, or in traffic, that that too, is an opportunity, not one you ordered up, but when you might take advantage of. And maybe not try to check your phone or listen to more podcasts. Forgive me for that. But you know, that kind of zoo, just kind of give yourself some quiet in those moments. So, and then also do that together. Because to not only think of this as a solo sport, but silence we find is magnified when it’s shared. So how do we do that? In our office places? How do we do that, as families, with friend groups? How do we invite in some quiet, sharing quiet?

Mark Divine  22:55  

I love that. And you’re right, it’s magnified. And also, it’s supported, right.?So you’re gonna, if you had a structure in an organization, or your family or combination, where quiet time, and it could be a variety of practice, were both supported and structured in baked into the schedule of what it is you do, then, then you’re basically stacking practice time, without having to really even think of it as practice time, you just, this is what we do. Ultimately, you know, what I’ve learned through my meditation practice is that you want to basically take it into your life every day, right? It’s not meant to be something where you tie yourself to a bench or a yoga mat for the rest of your life, right? No, that’s really preparatory work, because you haven’t built the awareness and to be able to take it with you wherever you go, right. And so if you could, kind of shortchange that by building structure, that that forces in a sense people to do these practices on the go, or wherever they’re at. And it could be, like you said, a variety of things. It could be iPhone apps, it could be practices that you do with your workgroup, or your family or, you know, whatever, then you’re stacking all that time, during silent work. And finally, it takes time, but over while you’re just changing the course of that river of your mind, you know, and it slows down, you have moments where it just slows down. Appreciate the stillness. Once you appreciate it, you never go back. 

Leigh Marz  24:12  

You remember, I think we remember and some part of us even if it’s not in our own, you know, we remember what this is like. And so then I think it’s hard to go back at least as fast.

Justin Zorn  24:23  

And Mark, I love that you just use that word appreciate. Because I feel like that’s the essence of so much of this. Like we could have all the tools and apps and practices in the world. But the most important thing is that we can recognize our lodestar, that we can recognize what’s bringing us clarity and renewal. And there’s this concept that keeps coming up for me as we’re talking today. It’s a Japanese aesthetic principle called ma and ma in ancient Japan means empty space, negative space, but it also means pure potentiality. It’s the silence in between words exchanged in conversation. It’s the silence. It’s the negative space and flower arranging, and all of this. And it’s like that appreciate, as you were talking about appreciate Mark, like appreciating that pure potentiality in the space, if we cultivate this appreciation, that it doesn’t really matter which practices we have, it doesn’t really matter, you know, if we’re a skillful meditator or not, because we know where we could turn our consciousness, moment to moment. 

You know, and like you were asking before about practices day to day and how to do this, we have a little section of the book called momentary ma, where we look at the practice of just as you’re leaving a room, taking a moment, before turning the doorknob, before grabbing a glass of water, whatever it might be, to take some breaths, and it doesn’t need to be a fancy breathwork practice, but just tune into the silence, let all the thought and worry that need to generate sound and content, let that go and appreciate the silence.

Mark Divine  26:01  

The concept is difficult for most people to understand, you know, that everyone basically misidentifies themselves with their thoughts, or the combination of thoughts, their physical body and the sensations or emotions, right. And so they think, Okay, this thing that shows up here is Mark or Leigh or Justin is me. And they don’t identify with what you call the negative space or the backdrop that allows me to even be aware of me. Right? There is no such thing as an absence of me, when you turn around and connect to pure awareness, which is the stillness that exists or the source that exists, that me came out. Of more than me, this body mind arose on it is different is, you know that when you talk about non duality, you know, the average individual, and you have no connection to what that means. And so you try to identify it with duality terms. And so it’s very confusing. And so you really can’t go there. Like when you’re teaching this. 

I think metaphors obviously help like what you just said, like, one of the reasons we appreciate music is because of the silence, right? Otherwise, you wouldn’t know it is music, sound has to have something that exists before after enduring sound, what is that same thing with the human being, the mind has to have something exist before, during and after the mind for the mind even to be able to recognize itself. And I think ultimately, that’s why meditation is confusing and painful for a lot of people. Because ultimately, it really was just a mechanism to get somebody to slow down, and to do some mental training that that got them away from their thoughts than the rest of the work was, you know, let go of all the efforting because the more you effort, the farther you get away from it, right. And so that’s the challenge, people kept efforting because we have a bias toward action in the West. And it’s not, it’s a surrender, to just be that leads you to that golden silence.

Jeff Zorn  27:57  

We’re in a moment of history, when people are recognizing that the old ways of working, aren’t working. So we look, for example, at Pythagoras, you know, 2500 years ago, this very esoteric, ancient Greek philosopher, came up with some of the geometric theorems that are still in eighth grade math textbooks. I mean, this guy was a generative genius, if there ever was one. And he required that his inner circle of students spend five years in silence if they wanted to study. So we look at this question like, imagine you’re gonna spend five years in silence take on this thought experiment, really this feeling experiment for a moment, you know, imagine you don’t have to think of any of the responsibilities you need to take care of over those five years, everything’s taken care of. Imagine what five years in silence would do to the architecture of your mind?

Mark Divine  28:52  

Yeah, I can’t imagine that. That’s intense. My SEAL Fit program, you know, is a leadership program couched in military Special Operations, kind of physical mental toughness training. And my training center went ahead and in Encinitas, before the city kind of ran us out of town. And one day, I just given a lecture in our gym slash classroom. And on the board, I had the word silence in the middle of the board circled with about three or four other concepts, and I was teaching classical leadership. And we were having dinner upstairs. And I looked down and I see this Indian guy, not Native American, but an Indian, standing in the middle of my gym staring at this board. It was like, oh, this is gonna be good. So I go downstairs and introduce myself and he’s like, wow, I was just so intrigued. You know, I came by here and I see that this is SEAL Fit, and you’re doing kind of special ops kind of fitness training, but then I see this word silence and it was like this incongruent moment. 

 

And so anyways, the reason for this story is that he was a software engineer, super successful software engineer, who was a self realization devotee and he had just given his interest in his business to his partner, and he was heading back to India for a three year, three month three day silent retreat, and as part of their culture, right as they they go, you know, this turning in phase of their life, they basically walk away from all material attachments, and go through an intense period of silent introspection, you know, to prepare for the final stage of like the last 20, 25 years where they’re going to really turn in the more spiritual. 

So I can’t imagine, you know, back to your point, Justin, what it would be like for three years on the retreat, I think it’d be challenging for most Americans to do that, or Westerners, and nor am I advocating it, because I think there’s significant benefit to learning how to do this in the midst of your life, right? And this is the challenge we see with monasteries and people who disappear from society, right, thinking that they’ve got to get away from the noise, but they just drag the noise inside their head and all their dramas with them. But in everyday life, you’re getting instant feedback, right? You’re not in some pretend environment. And I would say even in prison, it’s a manufactured or it’s an environment, it’s very real for those individuals, but it’s just much more difficult but much more rewarding. If you can attain stillness as a householder, you know what the yogi’s would call a householder. 

Justin Zorn  31:14  

Well, it’s been a big tension for us, because we’re with you. I mean, we decided not to write a book on silence for people who want to run away, to monasteries. You know, I got two year old twins and a five year old and a, you know, consulting practice. And Leigh has a teenager at Berkeley and we’re not recommending that people do what Pythagorean’s his inner circle did, right, because we need people in the game. 

Mark Divine  31:40  

That’s right. 

Justin Zorn

So he’s gonna say it’s all hands on deck. You know, given that, given that this is an all hands on deck moment in history. How do we deal with the imbalance in the world right now of the just extreme surplus of noise that we’re dealing with? That’s the big question for us, is, how do we do that, and we keep coming back to you know, this word you used before, appreciate. Appreciating silence. We talked with Judson Brewer, who is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Brown University, who’s one of the foremost experts in the neuroscience of mindfulness. And he told us something really interesting. He said, from decades of fMRI studies, of meditators, both novice and experienced meditators, when he looks at the meaning of silence in the mind and the meaning of noise in the mind, it’s always the same thing. Noise in the mind is a state of contraction, contraction in the body, contraction in the mind and thinking, and silence is a state a felt experience of expansion. But as Jud was telling us, most people mistake that state of contraction for a feeling of success and productivity, and aliveness, it’s like we want that dopamine hit. But we might not know what a more spacious kind of fulfillment. Like Aristotle, for example, talks of eudaimonia, you know, and Gandhi talk, for example of how when the thoughts and the speech and the actions are aligned, like we don’t have these, these touch points, we don’t have these reference points of what a deeper kind of fulfillment, a quieter kind of fulfillment, a more sustainable kind of fulfillment feels like.

Mark Divine  33:20  

The only place you really see it is in studies of people who are near the end of their life. You don’t ever hear anyone saying, I wish I had accomplished more or done more or spent more time on the road. And, you know, or if I built one more organization, never, you always hear the opposite. You know, wish I’d spent more time in quiet or spent more time in nature or spent more time with my family or been a better listener? It’s going to be a challenge to transform it. You know, I think it’ll be a generational type thing, right? Because we have such an intense bias in our culture toward action, toward doing, toward sort of individuality building, you know, and it’s, you know, it’s served well in a certain sense for technological advancement. But it’s led to a lot of challenges. And so I’m kind of curious, before we wrap up, like what are some of your you address economic costs of not embracing silence? And what do you see kind of how do you measure progress against those costs, or in solving some of those challenges?

Justin Zorn  34:21  

There’s been a lot of work to measure the cost at the level of the health consequences of so much auditory noise, but we’re only just beginning to understand what the consequences of all the information overload looks like. Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, during the Crimean War, was serving the British Army in a hospital outside Istanbul, where she recognized noise as one of the biggest hindrances to healing. She saw that the noise was driving the fight or flight response in the nervous system, which was in turn driving both difficulty healing and a physical level and also driving conditions that we would call PTSD today. So we’re getting more and more of a sense of what that actually looks like of what that what those costs actually look like. And it’s tough to quantify sometimes. I mentioned before this idea that we measure GDP, according to not just how much industrial stuff we’re creating, but how much sound and stimulus we’re creating, how much mental stuff we’re creating. But then again, it’s like, how do you measure the value of silence? How do you measure the value of, like, all those conditions you were talking about, Mark, a person on the deathbed, recognizing the value of that time in nature, the time with family? Yeah, it’s hard to put a price on something that’s priceless.

Mark Divine  35:39  

If GDP was gross domestic peace.

Leigh Marz

Oh I like that. 

Justin Zorn  35:42  

So we do look in the book, at some ways we could rethink GDP, you know, not in a totally radical way. It’s not a particularly ideological thing. But you know, for example, in the economy, right now, we measure consumer price index, which is in the news a lot with inflation, or we measure the money supply, not as one indicator, but as a series of different indicators. There’s different uses of those economic indicators. So there’s different types of CPI or different types of money supply. So why don’t we measure GDP as a series of different indicators? You know, standard GDP, and then also accounting, for example, for traffic time, or pollution, usually, as GDP goes up, you know, crime could be increasing, because that often increases with the cost of the need to buy new stuff or locks on the doors or traffic. So why not, you know, work to compute that? And then working our way up to something that looks more like what you’re talking about gross, gross domestic peace, or you know, something like Bhutan has Gross National Happiness, where, you know, we have a series of different indicators. So we’re looking in the book at different ways we could take this. Yes, the personal practice, in that sphere of control, what we could do on a day to day moment, but then also looking at this at the level of what we can actually do as a society. So we get out of some of these dynamics.

Leigh Marz  36:59  

Thinking about Tyson Yunkaporta we spoke with, author and maker of traditional Aboriginal tools, who pointed us towards the back, this noise is actually impacting everybody on the globe, including, and maybe especially some of the more remote tribes in the Amazon, that it’s really permeating everywhere and that you know this is not so much about solving it for this generation, but remembering and setting it up for future generations. I know that sounds horrible, and maybe depressing. But this is an exciting time to be alive, to remember that, to be in the role of remembering, and that’s part of what we see is so just honoring the importance of silence in our lives to mark time, to share those important moments, to celebrate this life that we have to take note and not, again, take that lightly, we came to this urge to write this book, because we had a sense that there’s got to be more than just this more thinking, more talking, more thinking, more talking, it was definitely reaching its end. And that the loss is more than that nuisance of sound or of noise. It’s more than that. It’s really the quality of our lives, with the people we love, and the work we love. And the time we want to be spending. It’s urgent. It’s important.

Mark Divine  38:20  

I had a deep meditation experience recently, and you know, replete with some visions, and it was cool at the end of it, I just kept hearing remember who you are. And I had already been practicing the practice that Ramana Maharshi really kind of popularized, which came out of the tradition of just investigating the concept who am I? So who am I? Asking that question, and this penetrating into the depths of what that means is the same as remembering who you are, it’s the same concept. And it’s the who you are beyond the concepts, beyond the chatter, beyond the noise, beyond the identifications, like we were talking about earlier. And I think that, like you said, the work that you guys are doing and that others are doing in this space is to help our culture remember who they are, because we’re talking about humanity. And the more, the more you remember who you are as an individual than the more you connect with the humanity of the whole, right. And so this doesn’t just lead to more health at an individual level or organizational success, because people are more productive because they’re less stress, it leads to a global population coming together and turning their back on violence, turning their back on disconnection, and reconnecting. And I think that’s profound.

Justin Zorn  39:34  

And that was, Mark, that feeling you asked before about teaching mindfulness on Capitol Hill, you know, it’s not like it’s a panacea, getting people in that room together to meditate. It’s not going to solve all the problems we face these days. But it’s a prerequisite that we can all get beyond the noise. You know, you might have seen that when you were there or, or for that matter when you were in the prison. You know, like unless we could get beyond that. This identification like you were saying with Ramana, Maharshi, this identification that we are our thoughts, we are the thoughts that we produce. We’re the sound and stimulus we produce, Unless we can get beyond that delusion that leads toward the other pollution of the world with so much point and counterpoint in entertainment and sound and stimulus. Unless we could get beyond that. How are we really going to hear the signals of what’s true? What we really need to hear?

Mark Divine  40:28  

Right. Well, I’ve got to wrap this up, we’ve been going for a while here. The book is Golden, is it published yet?

Leigh Marz 40:35  

It is, yeah in the US that came out May 17. In the UK, that’s HarperCollins. And in the UK on May 5, with Penguin via it’s readily available.

Mark Divine  40:45  

And where can people find more information about you guys, about your company and about the work you’re doing?

Leigh Marz  40:50  

You can find us at AstraeaStrategies.com That’s astreastrategies.com. We both have independent websites as well, Justin Zorn li Marz, and the book can be found wherever you buy books, wherever.

Mark Divine  41:05  

I mean, which is pretty easy to find these days.

Leigh Marz

Yeah, exactly. 

Mark Divine

Well, thank you so much, both of you for your time. Thank you for the work you’re doing and for this important contribution to creating more stillness and silence in the world. And thanks for the show. Appreciate it.

Leigh Marz 41:18  

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Mark Divine  41:23  

Well, that was a really, really nice interview, I super enjoyed talking to Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, authors of Golden and partners in Astraea Strategies, talking about silence and stillness and how to find that in a world that’s getting noisier and noisier and busier and busier, and the economic and social consequences of that as well as the health consequences and how to find that not necessarily by embracing a hardcore practice of meditation or, or becoming a monk by by taking practices simple practices in your daily life into work or into your family, or you know, just out in a bar with you. It’s a very powerful notion to get away from the, you know, some of the misconceptions and challenges around a meditation practice. And you can check out their book titled Golden wherever books are sold. Shownotes and transcripts are up on the site, MarkDivine.com. You could find this video episode on our YouTube channel, MarkDivine.com/youtube. You can find me on social media @MarkDivine on Twitter and @realMarkDivine on Instagram and Facebook, or my LinkedIn account.

If you’re not experiencing my new newsletter, Divine Inspiration, then consider going to MarkDivine.com and subscribing. Each week, I’ll send you interesting shownotes from the podcasts that will be released that week, as well as a blog and other interesting things that come across my desk in my life that I think you would find motivational or interesting. 

Shout out to my amazing team, Jason Sanderson. Geoff Haskell. Jeff Torres who produce this podcast every week and bring in incredible guests like Justin and Leigh to you. Reviewing the show and writing it is very helpful. So if you haven’t done that yet, please consider doing that. It helps other people find it and it brings us credibility. 

The world is changing fast, and it is noisy and busy. And it’s not going to get any slower. So it’s up to us to slow down on the inside to find the stillness within and to then do the work of creating the world that we want to see, starting with ourselves. So appreciate you for doing that work. Appreciate you for leading by example, and appreciate your support for this show. Till next time, go find some golden silence. Hooyah.

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