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October 2023

Post image for How to Make Your Mind Maybe One-Third Quieter

Recently the New York Times published an article titled “The Beauty of the Silent Walk,” about an emerging wellness trend among TikTok influencers.

I was excited to read it, because I assumed this group of young people (and now the NYT readership) had just discovered a practice I thought I invented, called the “wordless walk.” I don’t think I’ve written about it here, but I have described it in some of my books and courses.

To take a wordless walk, you go for a walk with the intention of staying attentive to the environment around you, particularly how it sounds. Whenever you notice you’re talking in your head, about anything, you drop the talk and go back to listening and looking. You can talk in your head later; the walk is just for noticing.

This practice teaches you that you don’t need to address every instance of mental talk you have. In fact, your thoughts will never leave you alone if you try to resolve every train of thought that arises. Instead, you can just enjoy the world as it reveals itself before you.

The wordless walk is never really wordless in practice. Thoughts still get a hold of you, but simply practicing the intention to defer to noticing over thinking can make a huge difference to your mental state, and your relationship with thinking in general.

To my disappointment, this is not what the TikTokkers were doing. By “silent walk,” they just meant walking without listening to headphones. “No airpods, no podcasts, no music,” one influencer put it. “Just me, myself, and I” she said, tapping her forehead for emphasis. By the sounds of it, the “silent walk” movement is essentially Gen Z’s discovery of inner monologue as an alternative to constant electronic entertainment. That’s definitely an improvement, but there was no mention of possibly experiencing the kind of silence that lies outside of thought and words.

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Post image for The Truth is Always Made of Details

If you were instructed to draw a leaf, you might draw a green, vaguely eye-shaped thing with a stem. But when you study a real leaf, say an elm leaf, it’s got much more going on than that drawing. It has rounded serrations along its edges, and the tip of each serration is the end of a raised vein, which runs from the stem in the middle. Tiny ripples span the channels between the veins, and small capillaries divide each segment into little “counties” with irregular borders. I could go on for pages.

If you could look even closer (and you can with a microscope) the detail would continue to unfold essentially forever, or at least until you reach the molecular scale, where it all becomes unfathomable to the human mind anyway. Unlike objects in a digital photo, or human ideas about what those objects are, real things exist in essentially infinite resolution.

The principle holds for everything. Looking closer always reveals more, and it’s often not what you’d expect. Archie Andrews’s orange hair (in the comics anyway) is actually rows of printed red dots. The tops of your knuckles have miniscule lines that make diamonds and triangles. Sand, examined on your fingertips, is made of a few distinct types of grains, none of which are quite the color of “sand.”

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