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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #202 - Leigh Marz & Justin Zorn

Leigh Marz is a leadership and collaboration consultant with organizations including Harvard, Google, and IKEA. She has led a multi-year program teaching experimental mindsets to multigenerational teams at NASA. Leigh is also a longtime student of pioneering researchers and practitioners of the ritualized use of psychedelic medicines in the West.

Justin Zorn has served as both a meditation teacher and a senior policymaker in the US Congress. He is a Harvard-and-Oxford trained specialist in the economics and psychology of wellbeing, who has written for The Atlantic, Washington Post, The Guardian, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, Wired, Time, CNN and others.



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Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise

personal experience with silence

the absence of noise

defining silence

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unwanted information

how much information can we take in at once?

the increase of sounds and noise in the modern world

could AI help us filter our overload of data 

top down attention

the activation of Cortisol and fight or flight

phone notifications and email

finding silence in your daily life

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why does silence make us uncomfortable?


the quakers and other spiritual Silence practices

libraries and social norms of quiet spaces

the constant noise in prison

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being intentionally unproductive

struggling to find the silence and presence in daily moments

No such thing as absolute silence

animal and music studies on noise and silence


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. It is about a very unique topic, well, it overlaps with topics that I've talked about on this show as far as mental health, wellness, mindfulness, meditation, and finding peace in life. But it's much more specific than that. And it's something that I think the audience will really, really resonate with, which is the concept of silence. And so, what's really interesting leading up to this conversation? So, I'm trying to remember how I was exposed to this. It was probably the author's publisher or agent or something, but I got the pitch about the book. The title of the book is Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. And I was just an immediate yes because this is right up my alley. I can't wait to read this book. The cover of it was gorgeous as well. What's funny, though, is the book that I read right before reading this book was called Sentient by Jackie Higgins and it was all about our senses. So, it was all about sensing sound and other things. It was really interesting to go from that book, which was all about our senses to Golden, which was about silence, sort of the opposite of our senses. But I think it's going to be more nuanced than that. Like we'll talk about in today's conversation about what silence really is and what we actually mean by that.

But listeners, I will just say that reading this book-- first of all, it's a beautiful book. It's very expansive. And I am using that word very specifically, but it's very expansive. It covers so many aspects of what is silence, what is noise, how does that manifest in today's modern world, how does it appear in culture, how does it appear in different people's lives, the science of it? How does it affect our brain, how does it affect policy, productivity, work culture, and just so many things? And it personally has had a very profound effect on my life, which I'm sure I'll talk about later. I've had a major reframe from reading this book that has affected me literally daily.

I am so excited to be here today with the authors. Yes, the authors. So, I have two people on today's show. I'm here with Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz. Thank you, guys, both so much. First of all, for writing the book. It's incredible. I can't wait to talk to you all about it. And also, for your time and for being here. I'm really looking forward to this conversation.

Leigh Marz: Oh, thank you so much for those kind words, Melanie. We're super happy to be here.

Justin Zorn: Thanks so much for having us, Melanie, really good to be with you.

Melanie Avalon: For listeners, it's funny, right before this, were having some technical difficulties trying to get all of the sound going, which is appropriate for this being a whole conversation about sound. To start things off, I normally ask about the author's personal stories, but Leigh, you had a request, which I really, really like this, to start things off, to read a part of the opening of the book, to just give the audience a sense of what's going on here.

Leigh Marz: That sounds great. Thank you so much. Yeah, you may hear some pages turning, but that'll add to the ambiance, perhaps.

Melanie Avalon: It's like being there. I love it.

Leigh Marz: So, chapter one, an invitation. What's the deepest silence you've ever known? You can trust the first memory that comes to you. No need to overthink it. As you remember the experience, see if you can settle into it. Recall where you are, what's happening around you, and who, if anyone, is present. See if you can summon the atmosphere, the quality of light, the mood in the air, the feeling in your body. Is it quiet to the ears? Was it the silence that comes when no person or thing is laying claim on your attention? Is it quiet in your nerves? Or is it the kind of silence that lives deeper still, like when the turbulent waters of internal chatter suddenly part, revealing a clear path forward? Take a moment to consider what might sound like a strange question. Is the silence simply the absent of noise? Or is it also a presence unto itself?

Melanie Avalon: I almost don't want to break the silence. That was amazing. And I'm having flashbacks now to when I first read that, because what I really loved about that opening to the book was it immediately pulls you into it and makes you actually viscerally experience what you talk about throughout the book because I have my answer for what happened when I did that exercise.

Leigh Marz: Oh, we'd love to hear your answer. If you want to share, we could all share our answers. Yeah.

Justin Zorn: That's such a good place to start, Melanie, with your reflections on it, what comes up for you?

Melanie Avalon: For me, and what I love about when you ask the reader to do that because I have the tendency to overthink things, and then you reassure us that it's just the first thing, really, that comes to your mind. For me, it's a few different things, but it's always been between words when talking to somebody and eagerly anticipating or wondering what they're about to say. Mostly it's been like in romantic relationships. [laughs] But the specific memories I was thinking of were on phone calls with a certain person, and it is just a few key moments where there was a question asked and then there was an answer. And just that eternity of silence between the question and the answer.

That was it for me. Yeah. I'm super curious since you both have been writing this book and thinking about this so long, did you have that? Like, for me? I read this book, I never really contemplated that question, so I had a very fresh, unbiased answer. But you guys have been so immersed in this. Are you able to answer that? As if you've just been asked it for the first time? Or has your world been so immersed in this that you just have a laundry list of answers for it?

Justin Zorn: It's a really cool question because writing this book has been like signing up for a curriculum in the study of noise and the study of silence. It's changed for, at least for me, my understanding of the meaning of silence. Like, one thing we explore in the book is that the most profound silence isn't even always auditorily quiet. It's not always the absence of all sound and stimulus, but it's the absence of noise. It's the absence of anything making claims on the consciousness. Sometimes for us, I think for both of us, we've had experiences of profound silence when we're just so immersed in doing one thing that could be on a crowded dance floor or running the perfect line through roaring rapids. It's not always what we expected. For me, I write in the book about a moment of deep silence when my wife and I have twins and they were born just before the lockdowns in 2020 and had to spend a little bit of time in the newborn intensive care unit because they were born early, thankfully healthy. But it was a stressful time. And having a moment of just holding the two of them skin to skin in my chest amid all the nervousness and rumination and sounds of beeping bells in that hospital room. Just having this moment of such deep connection together where it was like nothing else was real, no other noise could penetrate.

Melanie Avalon: So beautiful. How about you, Leigh? 

Leigh Marz: I appreciate so much your words, that the opening words bring you into the visceral experience, because that's, I think, one of the big takeaways we got is that there's a big difference between what we might think the answer to this question could be. When we conceptualize silence. Did it look a certain way and maybe be pristine quiet in that auditory sense, or maybe be alone? But really, what we found in asking all these fascinating characters neuroscientists, politicians, artists, a whirling dervish, a man incarcerated on death row, and many many more, this question and asking ourselves this question. Is that it was really surprising. And that's really what gave the shape to this book. My answer to that question, the one that wanted to be shared in this book, felt a little like "That can't possibly be it." But the deepest silence I'd ever known also happened after the birth of my child.

It was at a time when I was in a cacophonous internal state of postpartum psychosis. So, many many voices, internally unhelpful voices, we'll just summarize them as that we're going on yammering and clawing for the mic and the attention and the spotlight. But at a certain moment, I was asked a question, a really serious question from a psychiatrist who I think was trying to discern, like, what is the course of action with this woman? How far gone is she? What do we need to do to bring her back?

He asked me if I'd ever lost my witness. And when he asked that question, immediately all those voices parted. And what became clear to me is I just had this incredible sense of discernment, this ability to discern what was true. And my answer was yes, but only once. And in that moment, I could feel something holding me, a presence that I will call silence. This quietening of all that yammering, but also something bigger holding me throughout that chaotic experience. And it told me that I would be okay and I wouldn't need to be hospitalized, and my relationship with my daughter would be beautiful, and it is 17 years later. And then my marriage would endure. And all these things were communicated in just like that. And that's the power of silence is that it's separate from time and separate from space and we get transformed in those moments.

Melanie Avalon: It's so interesting because the way we all now have described our experiences, it's interesting that it seems to be both, so an absence of noise and a presence, which is hard to hold both of those at the same time. Where have you guys landed then with defining silence and noise and sound? And you talk about that throughout the book, the differences between those. Yeah. Where are you now with that?

Justin Zorn: It was really a journey. We both felt this intuition around 2017 when were both feeling pretty despondent about the state of the world, just the state of the discourse in the world and how people seem to be stressed out, ourselves included, the state of politics, the state of the environment. And we just didn't know how we could make a change that would really be durable and effective. And we both felt this intuition, like, "Look to the silence." Not just get beyond the noise, but turn deeply to silence, absorb the silence, find the answers, and no thinking or talking. We wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about this, and at the time, we're still thinking about the definition of silence really is mostly the absence of sound and stimulus.

The article did really well. It really caught a lot of people's attention, to our surprise because we thought it was a little bit out there writing about silence in Harvard Business Review. And as Leigh mentioned, we followed the cookie crumbs and started interviewing this cast of characters about this question. Starting with this question, "What's the deepest silence you've ever known?" The definition of silence started to emerge through these answers, really, particularly in talking with academic psychologists and neuroscientists, people who've studied the brain and human cognition and the nervous system deeply.

We first came to an understanding that noise is unwanted distraction. And that could be at the auditory level, it could be at the informational level, or it could be at the internal level, which is to say that could be the unwanted distraction in our ears, on our screens, where we take information, or it could be the unwanted distraction in our heads. So auditory, informational, and internal. And we gathered a lot of research that we can get into, if you'd like, Melanie, about how all of these levels of noise are on the rise, like, in some cases, exponentially on the rise in our world today.

And then we came to this understanding that silence isn't just the absence of noise. It is at one level. It's a space where no one is making claims on your consciousness, the place where no one is interfering with your perception or your intention. And then, as you alluded to, there's this deeper level of silence that's a presence unto itself, the state of not knowing, the state from which inspiration and creativity and even in some cases a kind of healing can emerge.

Melanie Avalon: One of the most freeing things I think you talk about early in the book is how, with noise and silence, just this idea that you don't have to have a responsibility to say something. And that is just so freeing, that's freeing. and then also on the noise perspective, it's really interesting how? Because you use the word unwanted. So, it really is relative. Something that's noise to me might not be noise to you. Like, you guys talk about the leaf blower example, like somebody mowing somebody's lawn.

Leigh Marz: Yeah, this acoustic. Do you remember his name, Justin, right off, Shankar? Yeah. He said that noise is when someone, your neighbor is mowing their lawn, and sound is when you're mowing your own lawn, and music is when your neighbor is mowing your lawn. So, it is very much relatively point out. And we're trying to make a distinction here between noise that is auditory versus sound or even music or all those kinds of expressions that we love so much or information in a neutral way, we would describe it as data. Data is good, there's nothing-- it's neutral.

But the unwanted information grabbing for our attention and the mass proliferation of that information available to us, regardless of the quality, is part of what we're noticing in terms of how that's affecting our attention levels. And then internally internal that's thought. And we love thought, but chatter and that destructive internal thought of rumination and fixation, that which Ethan Kross, a professor of University of Michigan, estimates we listen to something like 320 State of the Union addresses of internal compressed speech every day. And a lot of that is very destructive. So, we're looking at the toll of these when it becomes unwanted distraction, it's no longer sound, data, and thought it's noise on any of these fronts.

Melanie Avalon: I am so fascinated by all of this, especially the informational processing bit, no pun intended because you say in the book that-- so to understand a person speaking, it takes 60 bits of information per second, but then we have an upper limit of around 126 bits. What are we actually exposed to today with information? And what's really interesting, they often say, like our brain that we only use 10% of our brain, which makes it seem like we would be fine with all this exposure to information. But is that the case? Do we actually have a limit? Does it saturate our brain?

Justin Zorn: It's a super interesting question because we only use a limited portion of our brain, it seems like now that we're dealing with at least five times as much information as we did a generation ago, in the 80s, it seems like, well, "Hey, can't we just use more of our brain to absorb more of the information?" That constant social media exposure and GPT4 and whatever it might be that's like providing this limitless firehose of information. But researchers on this, like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is famous for his writing about Flow. The researchers in the science of attention in the mind have found that over millennia there's really not evidence that human beings can absorb any more information. We keep running into that upper limit that you described. We can find different hacks for being able to manage information of our lives. But in terms of our actual attention, there's this way Csikszentmihalyi had described it that we may be living in a world of more and more connection to all these billions of people, but we can only understand one of them at a time.

Melanie Avalon: I was thinking about how, like I mentioned earlier, reading Jackie's book Sentient about our senses and what that really got me thinking about because she talks about how we think we have our basic senses, but really, we might have 20 or 30 different senses. But also, this concept that there's so much information that we're not even sensing because we don't have senses to sense it. It really goes back to what is-- I guess, our mind choosing to take in and to focus on. You mentioned the increase of information and data in today's world. Literally what that actually looks like with the sound aspect? When you mentioned your experience in the hospital? How is that manifesting noise-wise? Hospitals today, for example, how have they changed sirens? How have they changed? What is that actual experience like?

Leigh Marz: Yeah, we use sirens as a proxy indicator for how loud it really is getting speaking again on the auditory decibel level. The estimates are that sirens, emergency sirens, which need to grab our attention. So that's a, I'll get back to this term, but a bottom-up, attention-grabbing thing. So, it's from the outside in that needs to grab our attention. Well, that needs to be six times louder to get our attention. So, that tells us our urban soundscapes are louder than they were, six times louder for those sirens to pierce it in the last hundred years, that is.

And across Europe, we do a little better job measuring decibel levels, especially in urban centers. But the World Health Organization estimates that about 65% of the population, about 450,000,000 people, live with noise levels that are harmful or hazardous to our health. So, there is a big toll. It's not just to the ears, really, it's to our cardiovascular systems. There's links to diabetes, there's links to seep loss, which are pretty obvious. But now we know so much more about the downstream effects of loss of sleep.

There's a great toll on our ability to focus. So, that's actually that top-down attention. That's where we put our focus. That's what we want to put our attention on. But with more and more things clamoring from the outside, whether it's a pop-up thing on our screen or beeping and buzzing in a different in hospital setting. There are all these alarms and sound bells and you see why we'd need those with all the instrumentation. But there are so many of them that we now see our healthcare provider suffering from an alarm fatigue where people just don't respond, or you can't even really tell which alarm is it. Some kind of measurement of the cardiovascular system had 86 different sound notifications, 86 different alarms, and it would take a savant to understand one from the other. We've just swung in this direction of sound and information as more information as if it's always better. But as Justin pointed out, there's only so much we can take in and sort and discern. And there's a certain point where it becomes really quite damaging and tiring, exhausting, and unnecessary level to those workers and to those of us staying in the hospitals.

Melanie Avalon: It's so funny. The book I was reading last night is about AI and the future of healthcare specifically. And he was talking about the future of the hospital and how great it was because they're going to be able to start monitoring all of these things and there will be all of these alerts for different things. And I was like, "Oh, no. This is not good." When I interview him, I'm going to ask him about this.

Justin Zorn: You just got me thinking like, "This gets to such a core message of the book. Hearing about some of these devices within intensive care units that get to decibel levels that are harmful, as understood by the World Health Organization and by others." It's like one of the key themes that we uncovered in all this research is that we just don't really think so much about the costs and benefits of all the noise we create. We're talking about hospitals here, but it's also like group emails. Cal Newport, the computer scientist and productivity expert guru, writes a lot about what he calls convenience addiction. We just assume that group emails are always the way to go in an office setting because any possible information that's useful to just one person, outweighs the distraction to all those other people.

There's not really a cost-benefit analysis as to what the unwanted distraction causes in terms of consequence that applies across society writ large. Whether that's like the impact of a low-decibel, high-frequency hum of a data center that causes people headaches but produces some economic development or that example of the ringing bells in a hospital treatment room or an ICU. It's like we have to think about the cost benefit. And to do that, we get into some of the science of "What literal auditory noise actually costs us?"

Going back to what Florence Nightingale discovered 150 years ago or discovering what cognitive scientists are finding about our ability to concentrate today. So, that whole, like, AI in the hospital example, yeah, there could be access to a lot more valuable information that can, in some cases, be lifesaving or cut the amount of time doctors have to spend or nurses have to spend on routine tasks. And then there's also this way that the excessive surplus of information can create, as Herb Simon, the scholar in the 1970s, put it, that surplus of attention can create a poverty of attention.

Melanie Avalon: So many different things here. Well, so, first of all-- so is there a solution to that? Because especially being in this biohacking sphere, I'm reading stuff all the time about how we're going to be monitoring so many things. And it's all about the data, like all the data. And one of the benefits of AI is that as humans, we could never take in all that data and analyze it, but AI can. So, it can take it all in and it can figure out what's going on. What would be the solution there? Would the solution be AI that takes it all in and also can be really selective in what it actually tells us at the end? I just don't know how to actually practically well, not me, but how the world can practically get all of this data and get what we need from it without creating this overload of information.

Justin Zorn: Yeah, I can see the prospects for AI reducing the amount of information that we have to take in, but I could also see the specter of it creating a whole lot more noise. We were speaking with a friend recently about how for her, the noise is like all the agendas coming at her. So, much of the information that's coming at her, whether it's on TV or on social media or even just overhearing things out in the world, it's like not so much just the sound and stimulus of it, but it feels like noise to her because there're so many different agendas at play. People, as we describe it, making claims in your consciousness, having something that they're trying to convince you to do.

And one of the problems with AI is it provides a large language model, provides this organized mashup of what's on the Internet already. But people are putting things on the Internet for various agendas, various things they're trying to convince people of. So, it might not necessarily reduce the number of claims it's putting on the consciousness. It's was like, for us in this exploration, irrespective of what technologies come forward, like, irrespective of what AI looks like, what the Internet of things looks like, what Web 3.0, or whatever the new wave of innovation looks like.

What really matters is what we value as people as a society. And is that value just the maximum possible production of mental stuff? Is it just more and more information for information's sake? Is it more and more speed and movement and the quickness of the computation? Or do we value the spaces of stillness? Do we value the uninterrupted time in nature or uninterrupted time where we could give our full attention to our kids? Do we value pristine attention? Because that's what silence is for us. It's pristine attention.

Melanie Avalon: Going back to the opening when I said my deepest moment of silence was like waiting for the answer. And I think that's because it was pristine attention, like, it's the ultimate not knowing the answer. So, it's just waiting and focusing for that answer. And I think that's why it manifested as so much silence for me. I know for me, one of the most freeing things has been I don't use any notifications on my phone, nothing is allowed. No sounds, no alerts, no anything. I remember at one time during one of the updates for the phone, it was for the Do Not Disturb mode, but then it would give you an alert saying it was in the Do Not Disturb mode. And I was like, what is the point? [laughs] No, I don't want anything but speaking to that.

So, two things. One, you talk about this in the book, but you talk about how from an evolutionary perspective, we get a dopamine hit from information seeking. It's like the one thing that's not technically a survival thing, like it's not food or shelter or sex, which would be, I guess, furthering the species. But we seek information and we get that same dopamine hit from it. And I know I experience that all the time. I love learning and all of that. But when you're scrolling through all the content and social media, you just want to take it in and it just never ends, a question about that because you keep talking about things making claims to our attention and our right to attention.

And I was thinking about that. So, is that a right? What determines a right to attention? Like, if somebody creates content. How is that impeding on my rights? Or is it just when they come into my sphere? So, like on my phone, my TV, my internet, where is the rights aspect coming from?

Leigh Marz: Well, I mentioned that top down, bottom up, so this seems like a good time to break that down. This is building on the work of Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. They're a neuroscientist-psychologist duo and they break these apart. So top-down attention, that's what we want to focus on. We're having this conversation. My top-down attention is on our conversation, that's where my intention is. Now if I had left all my notifications on and my family was out there calling my name and my phone was ringing and all these other things on, that would be bottom-up attention.

That's the stuff that gets your attention and we need that for survival. Larry Rosen and Adam Gazzaley point out, like, we can't just be focused on what we want all the time. We need to know the saber-toothed tiger is coming out of the woods. We need to know that a tree branch is falling. We need to know when someone calls out our name. So, there's this constant balance between how we're using our attention.

The problem is things have gone so far towards bottom-up attention. Things from the outside coming in, crashing in. And that's actually a function, so that balancing is part of our ancient brains doing what it's meant to do. We are driven to find information. We're information-seeking creatures. So, we're doing a combination of those for our survival. But currently, with all this bottom-up stuff coming at us, it's being taxed to an unprecedented degree. And all the neuroscientists we spoke with, Judson Brewer and Katie Devaney, and others are deeply concerned about what is it like to have that constantly being exploited, that ancient brain survival mechanism being exploited like that. We don't know the answer to that. But the fact that we are having trouble with it is really, I mean, this is our brains doing what it's done forever, seeking information, intending our attention, but keeping our attention open to outside things. Does that make sense?

Melanie Avalon: That makes sense. I had heard before that one of the issues with alerts and notifications is because it's like the equivalent. If you see that you have a text or message and you see that little number, it's the equivalent of evolutionarily like being tapped on the back or hearing a sound, you don't know what it is. Like you don't know if it's a threat or something good. When you see that notification, it's like the survival response. You have to check it because you don't know what it is.

Justin Zorn: Totally. That relates to what we were talking about earlier, just briefly I mentioned Florence Nightingale, how 150 years ago she was stationed in Turkey during the Crimean War, and she was made responsible for a British Army Hospital. The conditions in the hospital, Melanie, were so bad, like gangrenous wounds going unattended. And among the conditions she cited as most important to deal with was noise, which sounded crazy at the time, but she called noise the most cruel absence of care that could be inflicted on sick or well.

And she talked about different kinds of noise. And, like, what you just talked about with phone notifications really linked directly to one particular part, which is that she said the most pernicious noise was the noise that was like a conversation just out of earshot that left the mind racing, left the mind perseverating on what was said. And it's like, "Yeah, when we're in the middle of doing something and we get a text message ding or we get a notice that someone responded to something we posted on social media, that's exactly the thing that she was describing." And to what Leigh was just saying about the impacts of that. What we now know is that she was describing the activation of the fight or flight response, which has real implications for cortisol in the body and our wellness across so many different dimensions.

It's like this idea of, like, a right to attention, a right to quiet. We look at this in different ways. Like, there's some law review articles that have been written about the idea of a right to our attention and what it would mean to have the right to not be spammed and so on and so forth in the digital sphere, and also what it means in terms of the right to an eight-hour workday. And in France, there's been a movement to create a right to unplug, a right to not have to be tethered to our devices after hours.

As we think about rights, I've worked in politics for quite a while, I was a congressional staffer for a while in DC and often when we think about the idea of a right to healthcare or a right that would be a rallying cry, it was often an art more than a science. It's a mobilization tool to talk about rights and it can be something that we can work through a law to make something real.

But oftentimes this idea, like a right to attention, is often about creating this cultural shift in our values so that we honor that something is important. We honor that pristine attention is important. We honor that we need the space in our lives to do things, to practice what you were talking about before, Melanie, with exercising choice in our lives rather than just, like, doing what the algorithms in our phone or our email inbox is pointing us to. So, how can we find different policies and also different personal practices, family practices, community practices, to make that right more real?

Melanie Avalon: Two things specifically, I've done going back to the notification's thing. When I'm winding down at night, I turn off all social media. I would at least look and see if I had messages, but I wouldn't read them. But now I just don't even open don't open Instagram, don't open Facebook, because if I see again that there's, "Oh, I have these messages." Then it's like I'm engaging that whole network, which we can get into the network stuff later. Also, with emails, so maybe you can help me with this because this is something that I've struggled with. You guys mentioned Nir Eyal, who I've had on the show as well, and he talks about the role of email. That was your book, right? You talk about him and email, answering email, or am I misattributing?

Justin Zorn: Yeah, we do a little bit. I think we mentioned him somewhere.

Leigh Marz: Yeah, he talks about shifting yeah, we're shifting our attention something like every 19 seconds and spending an hour getting back to whatever it is we're doing from all that interruptions. I think we just touched on his work a little bit, but go ahead, go ahead.

Melanie Avalon: I swear everybody mentions his work. So, I was like, "Oh, wait, maybe it actually wasn't this book." With email, for example, because one of the exercises you talk about-- I think it's the exercise about finding silence with friends and family, and the first step is actually looking at yourself and how are you contributing to the noise. And so even going back to the email example that we are talking about with all of the emails that are sent. Historically, I've always tried to answer every email. I remember when I was interning in college at one point, a film production company and the assistant said if you get an email, always err on the side of answering if you're on the fence. And I was like, okay, always answer.

And I feel like for me, with email, I feel like I need to acknowledge people. So, if they send me an email that could or could not have an answer, I want to tell them that they were heard and that they were seen. So, for me, it comes from a place of valuing the person that really-- I think is where it comes from for me, I feel rude if I don't send a confirmation that I got their email. But on the flipside, you could see it as actually just contributing to more of the data and information. I could not send that last thanks email. This is a very specific question, but how do you guys engage with that with email? If you get an email where the conversation could be over or you could send a final thanks, do you send the thanks?

Justin Zorn: I love this question.

Leigh Marz: You go ahead, Justin.

Justin Zorn: No, I love this question because it's a little thing, Melanie, and it gets to such a big theme that we explored in a deep way in the book. We don't want to give the impression that we're against sound and stimulus and, like, don't answer your emails, don't practice politeness. We don't want people to run away to a monastery. We don't want people to leave their lives behind and go seek deep silence. The stories we explore in this book are, like, "How can we have conscientiousness in our lives? How can we show up for our responsibilities?" Like bringing that extra courtesy to emails and being responsive.

But to do so in a way that still leaves space for deep immersive renewing silence in our lives. For me, this whole question of why silence is so uncomfortable, why silence is so scary? We have a chapter in the book called Why silence is scary? We get into a bunch of deep reasons about what Nietzsche called the horror of the vacuum, and how, in a recent study, a bunch of undergraduates at the University of Virginia would rather receive a painful electric shock than sit without their phones in silence for 15 minutes.

There's this deep, deep wiring we have to find silence, uncomfortable, or even scary. But what you're describing, Melanie, with the email and, like, getting back to people and meeting our social obligations, being a kind person, being an attentive person, is, like, one reason that silence is uncomfortable or even scary is that it means that we're not fulfilling our responsibilities. It means at some level the FOMO arises, like we're missing something, we're missing some information, but we're also missing some way that we're supposed to be showing up to feed our family, or we're missing some way that we're supposed to be showing up to be a kind person. For us, we think it's possible within this world in which we're now living, it is possible to find a balance. Yeah, we need to make some structural changes to deal with the noise. But it's also possible as individuals to learn how to navigate the noise and find these pockets of immersive silence.

Melanie Avalon: I love this.

Leigh Marz: You'll notice, you know this from reading the book so closely that we're not very prescriptive in the book. We're really offering a bunch of ideas to spark what's true. So, I love this sparked with you having just received a little back-and-forth thanks. I want you to know the impact over here was warming because we were just getting to know each other. So, I love that you wrote that extra email, that your value comes through and that's part of it is just that we just need to keep attuned to what it is that we're here trying to be in the world, do in the world, tune into in the world. What is the impact? Where it's hard for us to tell sometimes our own noise and our own quiet, where we're contributing to what.

Sometimes we have to ask truth-tellers in our lives, people we work with, and just get a little bit of their take on things. Sometimes we have to try, what's the difference? How do I feel in my body now? I'm writing this Thank you. But it's from sort of an obligatory place versus that spacious, warming place. We might have to pay attention to the signals in our own bodies and our own relationships and the tasks in order to tell what's true in this case.

Melanie Avalon: It's just so incredible. And like you said, I know it's a very specific example, but I think it's a good example of consciously addressing and I'm just brainstorming right now. I have two options I'm going to think about later. So, one, maybe for people that I'm interacting with all the time, like my business partners, my assistants, maybe I'll just have a conversation with them where I tell them, I'm going to stop sending those final thanks and it's not because I'm not thankful. It's because I don't want to contribute to the information overload.

Leigh Marz: Right. Assume gratitude, coworkers-- Assume my gratitude. I can express it at a different time. That's exactly what we say is like, have a conversation. This is the irony here, is we're talking about silence and quiet and spaciousness, but we might actually need to have a conversation about that in order to create the space where it doesn't feel awkward like Justin was describing. It's not misunderstood. It's nice and clear and appreciated for what it's intended to do.

Melanie Avalon: Exactly. And then maybe I can do something fun with my email signature that will talk about this. I'm going to contemplate this.

Justin Zorn: That's cool. I love that experimental mindset you got going.

Melanie Avalon: That was one thing I love about the book as well. Like, at the end, you have this nice recap. It's like 33 ways to find silence. And there're all of these different things that you can try. And that's what I really liked, is it's so much about the individual. A, what we were talking about earlier about your perspective of what is noise and sound and silence. And then B, all of these potential things that you can experiment with to find silence in your daily life, find it with others. It's like there's a whole toolbox of things that people can try.

Justin, you mentioned scary and fear. And, Leigh, you mentioned the word awkward. I would love to talk about this concept about why does silence relate to fear? And then in particular, you talk about the different octaves of fear. So, like, a lower octave of fear, which might have a negative effect on our constitution, compared to a higher octave, which is associated with awe and religion and wonder. So, fear and awkwardness, which also there're, like, awkward silences. So, what's happening with all of that?

Justin Zorn: Yeah, this was a chapter of the book that emerged as we're having conversations with people and we realized this was a persistent theme. Like, we hear about awkward silence, but silence is something more than awkward sometimes if the idea of spending a lot of time in silence. Like that UVA study I mentioned about the students who preferred electric shocks to silence, to time away from the phones, sometimes it's like this urge to run away. And we do this thought experiment, this feeling experiment at the beginning of that chapter. Like, imagine you just committed the next five years of your life to being in total silence. Like, no worries about how you're going to earn a living, take care of loved ones, everything's been taken care of. What's your first thought?

Melanie Avalon: Literally? For me right now, I was like, "Oh my, Oh, Oh," that's a lot. That would be a lot to take on. I don't think I could do it.

Justin Zorn: It's so far away from our reality right now. It's not something that we recommend anyone do, but we mention it because we bring this thought experiment forward. Because Pythagoras, who is like one of the great philosophers in the history, who influenced so much of the rest of Greek philosophy and invented all these mathematical and geometric concepts and various scientific and musical concepts and theories that are still in use today, 2500 years ago, he required his inner circle of students to spend five years in silence, t spend five years not talking.

Melanie Avalon: Did they really do that? I don't normally interrupt-- when I read that-- I'm sorry, but when I read that in the book, I was like, "Did they really do that? Really?

Justin Zorn: It's documented in a few places that was a requirement that he had for his students. And it's like, this is 2500 years ago, to study with one of the greatest geniuses in all of history, like, as part of this mystery school that wasn't just like a scientific school as we think about it today, it was also a spiritual school. Like, this was their requirement. He put on his students. As we've studied in our research, that's what we found. We just wanted to understand irrespective of whether anyone's actually going to do this. It seems a little unbelievable in today's world. But what would that do to the architecture of consciousness? What would that do to the makeup of your mind?

And in this chapter, we explore through conversations and studies how we have to pass through these stages of fear and crazy thoughts and restlessness in order to encounter a kind of wholeness. And we look at this not just in terms of ancient philosophy. We look at it also in terms of the modern science of psychedelics and what happens in states of deep rapturous silence where that can sometimes be really frightening, and how you've got to peel layers of the onion and get closer to the core, get to the center point where it's possible to have these higher states of insight.

Melanie Avalon: Wow, I'm just thinking now. In society, are there any rituals where things like this are implemented? I'm trying to think, like growing up in school. I guess we did a prayer moment in classes in the beginning, like a moment of silence. How about on, like, Capitol Hill in politics?

Justin Zorn: There's really not as you'd imagine. I was involved in starting a meditation program on Capitol Hill with former Congressman Tim Ryan, who was in the news a lot recently for close Senate run. He's had a meditation practice for some time and I was involved with him in setting up a program on Capitol Hill where we had some members of Congress from both parties who would sometimes come to meditate. We had a lot of senior staffers, economists and attorneys, legislative directors, and chiefs of staff, and congressional offices who would come and meditate.

I was a legislative director there in Capitol Hill for some years and I was also a meditation teacher during that time. And it was such a cool experience because even though we think of this book as not like a book about meditation, we think of it as a nonmeditator guides to getting beyond the noise. That experience I had teaching meditation on Capitol Hill was just like "The power of what's possible." By getting a room of really high-strung people saturated in noise together to be in silence for 20 minutes. Like the alchemy that can happen in that state.

Melanie Avalon: And that is similar to is it the Quakers that have the moment of silence before, or the Iroquois? Do they both do that?

Leigh Marz: The Quakers sit in silence actually quite regularly and for long periods of time. And we spoke with a birthright Quaker, Rob Lippincott, about that experience as their spiritual meetings and their meetings for the purpose of business are both held with a lot of silence, of very similar in their structure. And there's a clerk in there who is really sensing what's happening in the meeting. Everyone is understood, especially with all this deep practice of silence, that the practice is to share that silence together and to speak only when what you have to say is worthy of breaking that silence when it's really for the benefit of the whole and not coming from sort of an egoic place, say.

So, you speak when the spirit moves you and when it's worthy of breaking the silence. So sometimes, like, imagine these business meetings where that similar structure is happening. The clerk is sensing how the meeting is going, but maybe there is a disagreement, even a heated one, where people start to get polarized and their conversations are rigid in their thinking and talking with one another, the clerk will call for silence. And Rob describes it as sort of that meeting where there's a silence asked by the clerk. And everyone just relaxes into that silence, being well versed in how to share silence and that tension and that fire and the disagreement will soften and someone in the room, he says, inevitably will say something that he was singing, but better.

And they'll find their way through. They're also not afraid of just like breaking for a while or maybe not setting that disagreement down and coming back to it with more time and space in just life. Maybe now is not the time to make this important decision because we want our decisions to be enduring. We want them to really come from our highest place. There's a lot of actually, we can turn to all kinds of different traditions spiritual. In Jewish law, one who visits someone who's bereaved who is grieving, is instructed to be silent, to not speak unless spoken to just hold that sacred space of silence for a mourner, to make it possible for them to be present in their grief and not engaged in small talk or even in any kind of talk that they don't want to be. And to not run the risk of trivializing that person's experience with well-intentioned but sometimes awkward words.

There are traditions to turn to. We talk about Nyepi, this annual day of silence. It's the peak in the Balinese calendar. A peak day, the new year, which is spent in silence with families going inward and being quiet and not burning fires and not making noise. And even the Internet and cellular coverage is turned off for everyone to just contemplate their lives, their good fortunes and this new year and their intentions for the year to come.

There are places to look. There are places where we believe in the arts, for example, as another place just in our day-to-day lives, where we'll see beautiful use of silence with music in concerts. And even when you've seen an incredible performance and there's just like that, and you don't want to clap because it's just so, you don't want to break that feeling that we're sharing. We know how to do this. I think that's the point we really want to get across is that this is an old technology. This isn't a hack. We're born with this. This is an innate wisdom to being human, to being human together and we believe it's just worth putting our attention there and appreciating it for all it brings into our lives.

Melanie Avalon: Did you find any data, at least in the US on the most quiet and the loudest day each calendar year? Like, is Christmas the quietest?

Justin Zorn: No, I haven't seen any data on that. There're different ways you could measure it, I think, according to how we study the meaning of noise and silence. The auditory decibel levels in various places, which is just emerging. Some cities measure decibel levels, as Leigh mentioned, sirens are often used as a proxy. But then there's also questions like email traffic and that sort of thing, those measures of the informational noise. But it's hard to say, you mentioned Christmas and there is sometimes a feeling like the seasons bring with them different kinds of energies, different kinds of levels of sound and stimulus.

But even if there's less activity and fewer people going to work around Christmas and New Year's, sometimes those times can also mean an increase in the internal noise. Sometimes those are times when people, for example, navigating family dynamics and feeling a lot of ruminative thought. That's like one thing we really want to understand in this book and to some degree we use empirical research to understand. But a lot of it needs to be subjective and personal because a lot of this we can only understand for ourselves. Like these questions of how different feedback loops of noise work in our world, like how noise in one sphere begets noise in another sphere, and what we could do to understand those feedback loops so we could turn down the dial of volume.

Melanie Avalon: Why do you think libraries are somewhere where we have agreed, as a collective unity or as a community, to honor silence? That's really the one place I can think of where you go in there and it's quiet and you feel like you're disrupting a social norm if you're allowed in there.

Leigh Marz: Yeah, certainly. Actually, just I'm doing a lot of touring with my daughter to university libraries, and they're often multiple layers, right? And what they'll tell us is like, "Oh and it gets quieter the higher you go up these building." Then the norms, I think, sometimes are different on different floors. But what I love about that is that they're being discussed and that there are norms. There actually always are norms about silence and noise. They're usually just not discussed. It ends up being more of a default.

So, libraries are one of those where there's a norm and we all sort of know about it. But in our workplaces, there are norms for how often do you expect an instant response to an instant message. If someone calls, how does that go? Are all our meetings 60 minutes? Who talks and who doesn't? There're norms taking place. So, our emphasis is, if we can bring those norms, whatever they are, those defaults, into the foreground and discuss them and actually choose them, then we can shape the culture that we want to have, whether it's working together, or in our family lives or in our friend groups or just with ourselves, where we have, of course, the most control over what we do with ourselves.

We look at our sphere of control in the book and really start bringing in some practices where you have the most control in the center of the sphere, and then one notch out is where you might have some influence, and that's how it usually is with other people involved. And then where you don't have control. Perhaps it's just too big of a topic or issue, or it's a short-term thing where you don't have control. How can you let it go? Or even embrace that, however briefly, like that might be when your neighbor puts on their lawnmower and you just have to let it go? Or just celebrate as soon as they're done. Celebrate the quiet that follows.

Melanie Avalon: Is it possible, because you do talk about making friends with the noise, is it possible to, if it is all perspective, could you in theory reframe every noise and not have noise in your life?

Leigh Marz: There's a lot of research that suggests that really the context we have about the noise that's going on, for example, if there're flights, air flight traffic is often a burden to many of us and has some real issues. But if we hear that is, "Oh, this is about fire management or something like that, you know, or there's some kind of, you know, reason behind it, then we will be in a better place with it. We'll be more accepting around that." And the main teacher in our book, Jarvis Jay Masters, is on death row in San Quentin. As you know, for a crime, the preponderance of evidence and we certainly believe he did not commit.

So, he is in this very loud environment. San Quentin's death row is cacophonous. It is auditorily loud. There's just cement and metal and keys and yelling men and lo-fi radios and party beats all the time, 24/7, and men screaming at night with night terrors and all kinds of things. That's the soundscape. Informationally, there's so much information regarding their different cases and appeals and things that can become very stressful in a whole other way. And then internally, there's the reverberations of trauma in that space of most people who are in there have suffered from severe abuse or a dysfunctional foster care system or any number of things.

So, there's a lot of noise. But Jarvis has learned to navigate that noise and actually, to some degree, there's a certain amount of that noise that tells him things are going on as normal. And if it gets too quiet in that setting, it could signal that something is not good that's happening, whether it's about a raid that's coming perhaps with the guards raiding their cells or perhaps even something else going on between the different inmates. So, there's a certain amount of noise he welcomes and he loves the silence right beside that noise.

So, yeah, we've seen some incredible, I guess, seen and heard and learned from teachers who are constantly working in these high-volume hellscapes to find quiet which goes to show that we can, no matter what the circumstances, find at least a little bit more quiet for ourselves.

Melanie Avalon: I loved reading about his story. How did you conduct that interview with him?

Leigh Marz: We did that by phone. He is able to call out, so I set up an account and he's able to call collect. We put money into it and then were able to record that conversation. We had many, many conversations and I speak with him about once a week and go to see him at San Quentin's Death Row periodically every few months. So, he's become a really close friend for both of us and we adore him and are doing all we can to help his appeal, which is right now being considered. So, he could be released any moment now. His case is on a judge's desk for consideration right now.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, wow. Does he do podcasts? I want to interview him so bad. I was reading, I was like, "Wow, he just sounds absolutely amazing."

Leigh Marz: He is amazing. He does do some podcasts. I think he just today was 10% happier, so it's a process speaking of his meditation practice, so yeah, he's incredible.

Melanie Avalon: I loved what you talked about with him, about how he was in solitary confinement and then what happened when he was taken out of that, which you would think would be a good thing, but the effect that it had on his mental health and wellness was not good. What happened to him when that happened?

Leigh Marz: It was certainly what he wanted is to move from solitary confinement. He was on solitary confinement, the AC or Adjustment Center for 22 years, longer than any person in the history of San Quentin had ever been. And he was moved to the east block where he gets a lot more freedoms, more time on the yard, more access to commissary and phone and things like that. So, there were some definite-- this was the right direction to be heading in. But what he hadn't anticipated is that and who would know this, moving from the AC to the east block meant moving from a room with all closed walls including that front door, to more mesh wire and openness and a lot more sound and stimulus. And that sound was so intense to his whole sensory channels that he had the most severe seizure he'd ever had in his life when he moved from one to the other. So, it took a lot of adjusting and he really had to amp up his own practice for getting quiet when he moved from the AC to the east block.

Melanie Avalon: No, just reading about him was so powerful and how he does work with the other inmates and helps bring silence into their lives as well. It was really, really powerful.

Leigh Marz: Yeah, as well as to our lives, actually to Justin and I, he's a wonderful human here to help others to find quiet.

Melanie Avalon: So amazing. It's really empowering. And going back to the beginning, the very, very beginning, I said that there was something from the book that had a profound daily effect on my own life and it also relates to, I guess, empowering yourself. It's sort of the-- well, I'll just say what it is. So, you talk about multitasking and we're talking earlier about our obsession with information. And there's this idea of productivity. Maybe we can talk about GDP, but basically, at least for me, the thing that drives me and what gives me worth and value, which is a whole another topic, but I always need to feel productive. I always want to be maximizing every moment. I always feel like when I'm doing something, I need to be doing as much as I can in that moment.

If I'm cleaning the kitchen or something, then I need to be listening to a podcast or I need to be like listening to a book. I actually get anxiety if I do something where I could capably do two things at once. So, like I said, like cleaning the kitchen, something physical where I could be listening to a podcast or an audiobook at the same time. If I don't listen to an audiobook or podcast at that moment, I feel like I'm not being productive, like it's a "bad thing."

And after reading your book, I have completely reframed that. I'm still working on it. It's still hard. I feel the trigger, I feel the anxiety. But now when I do things in my daily life, I'm like, "Oh, I can actually not listen to something right now." And not only is that okay, it actually could be a really great thing in my life, taking in more of these present moments. So, it's been a huge reframe for me. I just want to thank you guys for that. It's had a very powerful daily effect.

Leigh Marz: Oh, that makes us so happy to hear that.

Justin Zorn: Melanie, I mentioned before that writing this book has been like signing up for a curriculum for us. And my wife is always putting the ways I'm always doing that. Part of it is like, Leigh and I were both big talkers. Like, we enjoyed sharing, we enjoyed listening to stuff, we love being in the company of other people. And in some ways, the ideas we put forward in this book are counterintuitive for us in our lifestyles. And we wrote this in part, knowing it's like, what we need. And it's been like a curriculum for me almost exactly like you're describing cleaning the kitchen and being willing to get into the silence or even just making the space in my day to do what I know will change everything. If I can just put away my phone and go on a little walk or a hike without the phone and just connect to the rays of the sun and hear the breezes and the branches. But I know it'll reset my nervous system and open a whole bunch of new possibilities for my day, improve my mood.

Leigh Marz: Yeah, there's so much here to just about really paying attention and I think you did such a beautiful job when you're feeling that tension of I'm washing the dishes, but I better cram this podcast and I've got to be improving, improving. And, like, as Justin just confessed, we're guilty of the same. But to really notice when it's like that, when it's that contraction feeling versus when maybe you're doing the exact same thing, but it feels expansive or somehow wonderful like it is bringing you quiet. This is why it's, like, never as simple as do and don't, but just to notice.

Notice when it's feeling that like, "Oh, you're just stuffing it in from that place of contraction or when you're really just expanding into something else and it feels nourishing. So, I'm so happy to hear you say that, because it can be-- those of us who really strive for personal development and we can sometimes get on a track of something that becomes really quiet, I don't know, almost brutal to the self, where we're constantly demanding that of ourselves as opposed to just acknowledging that we get to just be. And that's enough.

Melanie Avalon: It definitely feels expansive going back to that word visceral. I literally feel it. It feels really good to just do something. I keep using the kitchen example, but just to do something like that and just be in that moment and not be multitasking and doing other things, it feels very healthy, feels very good. So, like I said, I still get the anxiety trigger about it, but I just notice that and continue to work on it. Is there something in both of your lives-- where do you most struggle now still to find the silence in a moment?

Justin Zorn: I have three-year-old twins and a six-year-old at home, so it's joyful and there's a lot of beautiful conversation and play and fun noises and sounds of toys and lots of things going on in our household. And for me, like, being really engaged in my work, needing to find the time to take care of all the responsibilities around the house and for the kids, it's just a struggle for me sometimes to be able to find the time to step away from the sound and stimulus. One of the things that I've been working to do, something we lay out in the book, which is like, "How to focus not so much on the quantity of the silence, but the quality."

Like if I only have three minutes to step outside into the backyard or out in front of the house or to a quiet room, rather than saying, all right, I need an hour break or I need to really just get away from it all? Can I focus on delving as deeply as I can finding the most immersive silence that I can in the time I have allotted? And we explore in the book different strategies for doing this well, but for me, this is like the art I'm studying.

Leigh Marz: That's great. I think mine is sort of on the other end, which is perfect. I have a 17-year-old daughter now and a husband and I stepped away from a lot of the consulting work that I had been doing, except for just that with one major client to write this book and to really dive in. And this has been a five-year deep dive, and so, so wonderful, and now we're pulling into a different phase shepherding the book along. But what could happen is all the rushing in of that work again, and I'm not entirely sure that's the right use of me right now with my daughter as a junior here, she's only here for this much longer, and there's still lots to shepherd with the book. And so, I'm trying to stay really tuned into what's the best use of me and not get busy and not fill it.

So that gets confusing in terms of relationships. There're a lot of relationships I care about, and they're saying, "Hey, how about this, how about that?" So, keeping clear on that. I can get a little noisy with myself about those relationships and obligations. I can get stuck into the habit of busy that I had before. And so, I'm seeking out a lot of deeper moments with silence. So, yes, to the day-to-day like Justin just described, I need that all the time. But what are some deeper dive weekend retreats I can do to really tune into what's the best deployment of me right now in this stage?

Melanie Avalon: What's the longest silence practice you both have done? I know were talking about quality versus quantity, so it's the opposite question. But for me, I've done a number of 10-day silent meditation retreats, so I don't know how many. I used to do those about quarterly for a number of years, but that's not really my route so much anymore. Now I'm more inclined to do weekend retreats, and I usually do more mind-expanding retreats with psychedelics and entheogenic in groups where there's a deep practice, a lot of rituals, and a great strong container. So, that's my practice now.

Melanie Avalon: How about you, Justin?

Justin Zorn: Yeah, I've done some three-day retreats in the past, but we really emphasize in the book that even though we love these immersive periods of silence, we really don't want to recommend to anyone that they go on a deep, long, silent meditation retreat if that's not their jam, if that's not what resonates. Because everyone can find silence in their own way. And we noticed, as I mentioned before, this is nonmeditators guide to getting beyond the noise. We've noticed in some ways that meditation these days is just like used as this cudgel with which to beat ourselves up.

We talked to people who heard about this book who are like, "Oh my God, I should be meditating more. I know meditation is so important, but I'm not doing it enough." And we wanted to write this book as a chance to really offer some license to people, to give up those thoughts, to give up those worries because it's not necessary often to really go on a long retreat or even have a regular formal sitting meditation practice.

It's just to be able to understand where is there noise in your life. What's distracting you from what you really want, your clear perception, your intention, and find the ways to navigate that. What does silence feel like for you? What does it really mean for you in your felt experience, not just in your mind as a concept, but in your body? Like, what does it feel like to be beyond the noise and tune into that and find more of it in your life, however, it works for you?

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I love that and that definitely was a very clear message in the book. I find it really interesting, especially in the health and wellness community, the biohacking community, because there is a big emphasis on mindfulness and meditation, which are very powerful and wonderful. But I always do find it really interesting that some people it is like meditation specifically is what works for them. It's a game-changer. And other people that specific modality is just not what resonates and works for them. So, this provided a much, using that word expansive again, more expansive approach to finding what I think in the end is a very similar goalpost. I'm curious when you were coming up with a title, was there ever a discussion about because you just said like, the Nonmeditators Guide to Silence or something? Was there ever a discussion about maybe using something clickbaity like that for the subtitle?

Leigh Marz: There were lots of discussions. [laughs]

Justin Zorn: Yeah, we thought for a while that would be the subtitle.

Melanie Avalon: I figured when you said that, I was like, oh, that sounds like that was on the--

Leigh Marz: It's still our favorite unofficial title because it does get to the heart of it. And you know, even meditators think of themselves as nonmeditators because they're not meditating all the time or they're never meditating as much as they hope to. And of course, it's never meant to be exclusionary, but more inclusive because silence belongs to everybody.

Melanie Avalon: The concept of actual silence, like as a possibility. I thought it was so cool you talked about this study, which also was in that Sentient book that I mentioned about the guy at Harvard who went in the silence chamber and when he came out, he said that heard two sounds, or a sound still, and he didn't know what it was. And they said it was his what was it? His nervous system, basically.

Justin Zorn: Yeah, John Cage the composer, he heard two sounds when he went in the soundless room, one high pitch and one low pitch. And he told the engineer who was running the room and the engineer said, "Oh, this room is working fine. The high pitch sound is your nervous system in operation. The low pitch sound is your blood and circulation."

Melanie Avalon: That is crazy. And I think this is really important and really freeing because somebody might think just approaching this work, that they need to find the ultimate silence. But that example you talk about the role of vibration and how things are always in motion, it sounds like, no pun intended, actual silence. Is that actually a possibility? What about people who are deaf?

Leigh Marz: Yeah, we conclude that in a universe that is worrying and vibrating and churning and swirling that there may not be such a thing as silence. And so, we can let go of that really technical definition because we can't even in those anechoic chambers like the one John Cage stepped into that day, can't really have absolute silence there. What that does is just sort of helps with the refraction of sound. It absorbs the sound in this room so that there's not extra echoes. In this universe, yeah, maybe in some small pocket in some other universe, there's silence, but here maybe not so much. And we just embrace that and move on to the experience that we're all having, whether we're hearing or hard of hearing or deaf. What is our experience of silence?

Melanie Avalon: Did you interview any people who are deaf?

Leigh Marz: We didn't. We went down that alley when we thought we're mostly talking about auditory silence. But when we expanded to informational and internal silence, it didn't feel quite as important to hone in on that one aspect because we were looking at all these different areas of noise. And those areas of noise are ones that are shared by all humans walking the planet, it seems right now. So, that's how we approached it. But we did definitely learn a lot from those initial interviews. You were going to add, Justin?

Justin Zorn: Yeah, I was just going to add. One of the main figures in the book is actually blind Cyrus Habib, who describes that in his relationship to sound. And a big part of what we're describing here is really that the silence that we're talking about as the golden silence is the silence that we seek. And that there are these shadow sides of silence that include the silence of censorship and oppression, which we have a whole chapter devoted to, and deafness in a way we could think about as the silence that a person is not seeking. And again, we're not writing about this in a way that is like all sound and stimulus is bad. Certainly not. We love sound and stimulus in our lives. We love music in our lives. And at the same time, there's something that as a society, in terms of what we value, in terms of how we've structured things, that we've come out of a balance where there can also be a value within the empty space, the open space, the silence.

Melanie Avalon: Listeners will have to get the book and read all about the concept of "Ma," which is such a cool concept. I wish we had that in our today's culture. Maybe I'll just leave that there as a teaser. So, they'll have to get the book and see what that is. The other thing I was going to ask about was you had a few studies throughout the book. They were all fascinating, but in all of them they were accidental and the researchers discovering things about silence.

One was about the whales in the ocean and studying their stress levels and realizing that it correlated to a decline in shipping. And so, it had to do with and you can correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, but basically when there was less of the shipping, there was less sound. And that was what was ultimately correlating to their lack of stress. Was that what was happening?

Leigh Marz: Yeah, that's right. That was found after 911 when the shipping industry came to a screeching halt and reaffirmed in COVID times, at the very early end of COVID times, when shipping halted, the sound of shipping stopped and that stressor on whales was gone. And therefore, the whales could hear each other and they could do their whale songs, they could find each other and their stress hormones were measured much much lower for that short period of time. And then they went back up as soon as shipping returned.

Melanie Avalon: So fascinating. And then a second one was a researcher studying, I think, stress and different types of music. And he had like a reset moment of silence in between them and actually realized that was having the most profound effect, the silence, not the music.

Leigh Marz: Yeah. That describes it as usually thought of as a control variable in studies. So, it's just like nothing, a neutral, or something, but it ended up yielding the best results. And that was a huge study actually in the cardiovascular medicine and really shifted people's perception of silence as actually an area of study worthy of pursuing.

Melanie Avalon: And then these are just so cool. And then the third one was studying mice and the mother mice and their stress response and reaction to different sounds. And one of the sounds was like the sounds of their pups, which the researchers thought would have the most profound effect, but actually, it was the silence. Although in that situation, wasn't the takeaway that the silence was actually the most stimulating for the mice's brains.

Justin Zorn: Yeah. There was a study at Duke Medical School that looked at the effect of all these different kinds of sounds like you mentioned and it was the silence that stimulated the growth of neurons most in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that's most associated with memory. So, the finding that research team came up on was actually that the act of trying to hear in silence activates the brain and promotes neural development. So, when we actually pay attention to silence as something worthy of our attention, that can regenerate the brain. And that was something really similar to what the philosopher Pythagoras, who we talked about before with the five years of silence, told his students to, like, absorb the silence, to go as deeply as they could into the silence. So, this is like one of the key takeaways for us from the science in this book is that there's something edifying about listening deeply to silence.

And it gets back to what we talked about at the very beginning of the episode about silence as not just the absence of something, but a presence unto itself because it seems weird to listen to an absence. But if we can encounter silence not just as emptiness, but as fullness, it's like something worthy of our attention. That was like the intuition we both felt in that moment when we felt some despair back in 2017 that led to this whole project. Like, listen to the silence, absorb it, let it clarify you, let it heal you.

Melanie Avalon: Reading your book, definitely had that reframe about silence in my own life and my exposure to it. And it's so interesting because, like, with those studies I just mentioned, people weren't necessarily looking for that or expecting those results. I think it definitely speaks to just how much this isn't appreciated yet or how we're just not looking in this aspect and how incredibly important it is. So, I can't thank you guys enough for the work that you're doing. I'm sure people make jokes about this all the time, but one of my initial thoughts, when I picked it up was, I was like how is this going to be an entire book about silence? Like, what are they going to talk about? I mean, it just really, really blew me away. It's definitely been one of the most-- as far as all of the books I've read, one of the most-- It just really affected me reading it. I can't thank you enough for what you're doing.

Leigh Marz: Thank you so much. Melanie, that means that's just wonderful to hear. Thank you so much for receiving it the way you did so fully.

Justin Zorn: Yeah, yeah.

Melanie Avalon: No, thank you guys. And I can't wait for listeners to check it out. I know, Leigh, you were talking about your future with what you're doing next in your life. Would you guys do another book or where is the path from here?

Justin Zorn: Mm. I love the idea of writing another book with Leigh because just every moment of the journey felt so harmonious to me. Like, it never really felt like work. It's got to be something where the inspiration really strikes. And I'm doing a lot of work on cleantech companies right now and working on some environmental policies and projects and new startups. So that and the kids are keeping me busy. And actually, our family is embarking on a little around-the-world trip. We're going to be taking our two three-year-old twins and six-year-old to Europe and South America for about a year. So, keeping busy with stuff and working on managing to find the quiet spaces within in it.

Leigh Marz: Yeah. And I'm feeling the call to continue to shepherd the book and get the word out. And I love-- thank you Justin. I feel the same. Our co-authorship has been super blessed. And yeah, we just can't imagine life without Justin and this process and it's been wonderful. I keep working with chemists who are trying to get toxic chemicals out of our products and out of our environment. So that work continues and teaching dance and finding my silence in a loud thump and beat with a bunch of dancers around here and then enjoying my daughter while I still have her at home, that's in my plan.

Melanie Avalon: I'm just a fan of all of that. Well, the last question that I ask every single guest on this show, and it's just because I realize more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?

Justin Zorn: I'm grateful for this conversation right now, and that's the same grateful for what the process of bringing this book into the world has brought in terms of these opportunities to connect. Like, for us, this was such an act of faith kind of bold move for us to write this book about silence. Like you just said, Melanie, what could be a whole book on silence? Or sometimes we're like, oh, did we write too many words? Or some people say, well, shouldn't this just be a book of blank pages?

So, we brought this thing into the world and then it's like we've been able to have these meaningful conversations like this one that we've been able to share with you about what this means for different people and coming into this space of turning down the noise, but also this space of imagination. Like, what would it be like in this world of so much sound and stimulus if we could just connect to the presence, to the pristine attention, like imagining with other people? It's been something that's really given me a lot of feeling of happiness and gratitude.

Leigh Marz: Oh, man, I feel almost weepy. Thank you for your question about gratitude, because I have and we have so much, this process has been amazing. And to be able to attune to one another and attune to silence and then attune to those like yourself who are interested in it, to feel that aliveness come through and to be in service to that, I am so deeply grateful for even that opportunity. And so, to any listeners that you've helped us reach, I'm so grateful for that too, Melanie, thank you for lending your beautiful community to this topic.

Melanie Avalon: Well, thank you both so much. So, for listeners, definitely get the book. And we're talking about this before the conversation, but it's available in all forms. The audiobook has a wonderful narrator that really, I think, embraces the vibe that you're trying to create. So, how can listeners best follow your work?

Leigh Marz: You can look us up at Astrea Strategies that's astreastrategies.com. That's where Justin and I combine our forces to bring contemplation into action. And you can also learn a lot more about what we're doing in terms of media and articles and things like that on that website. And you can find our book, Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise at Amazon and independent booksellers. And like you mentioned, the Audible book read by Prentice Onayemi is really getting a lot of praise and worthy of it because he is just an incredible narrator who makes our words even better. And social media-wise as you might expect, we are not very active on social media, but you can find us on LinkedIn, at Justin Talbot Zorn and at Leigh Marz and welcome your contact there.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, we will put links to all of that in the show notes and just thank you both again so much for your work, for what you're doing, for having these conversations. I mean, it's really having a profound effect on so many people. And even now I'm just realizing another layer of gratitude I can have for this show and this podcast because I was realizing-- I guess these conversations on this podcast are really the one time for me that I turn off. I literally don't engage in anything else except for this conversation. And I just understanding more and more why that's so important. But thank you both so much. This was amazing. I will be following all of your work and hopefully, we can talk again in the future because this was really wonderful.

Leigh Marz: Thanks, Melanie.

Justin Zorn: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Melanie, for all the time and reading the book and sharing it.

Melanie Avalon: You guys, too. Have a beautiful rest of your day.

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