The Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave
Exploring Silence & Psychedelics: Finding Signal Through the Noise
Justin Zorn & Leigh Marz
Justin Zorn & Leigh Marz join Paul F. Austin to discuss their new book, GOLDEN, and the scientific, mystical, and psychedelic nature of silence.
Justin and Leigh recently released GOLDEN: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. Published by HarperCollins in the US and Penguin in the UK, it is appearing in 14 languages globally. Together, Leigh and Justin founded Astrea Strategies, a consultancy that bridges deep visioning with impactful communications and action.
Justin 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. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and three children.
Leigh 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. Leigh lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and daughter.
Find GOLDEN on Amazon, HarperCollins, or anywhere books are sold. Listen to the Audio Book narrated by Prentice Onayemi.
- Defining silence and noise.
- How silence promotes flow states, creative problem solving, and self-transcendent experiences.
- Silence and psychedelics.
- The sacredness of shared silence.
- The neurobiological effects of silence and noise.
- Balancing science and mysticism to inform a new paradigm.
- Cultivating introspection for wiser and more effective leadership.
- Justin & Leigh’s website
- Justin & Leigh’s book, Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise
- Episode 140: Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D.
- Justin & Leigh’s article in the Harvard Business Review
- Symphony 4’33”
- Book, Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler
- Book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Book, The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley
- Paper on psilocybin and mystical experiences
- University of Virginia study on silence vs. self-induced electric shock
- fMRI results on psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression by Robin Carhart-Harris, et al.
- Third Wave’s Coaching Certification Program
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0:00:00.2 Paul Austin: Welcome back to the Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave. Today I’m speaking with Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn, the co-authors of GOLDEN: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise.
0:00:14.9 Justin Zorn: So in these conversations with all these different people about the meaning of silence, the stories they told us about the deepest silence I’ve never known, we started to realize that silence isn’t just have a state of being, beyond any decibels in terms of literal sound and stimulus, but it’s this place where we don’t have anyone making claims on our consciousness. And what relates particularly to the psychedelic and entheogenic work is if we tune in as deeply as we can to the silence, we can find that in that supposed absence, we may find a presence.
0:00:54.5 PA: Welcome to The Psychedelic podcast by Third Wave. Audio Mycelium, connecting you to the luminaries and thought leaders of the psychedelic renaissance. We bring you illuminating conversations, with scientists, therapists, entrepreneurs, coaches, doctors and shamanic practitioners, exploring how we can best use psychedelic medicine to accelerate personal healing, peak performance and collective transformation.
0:01:29.7 PA: Hey listeners, I’m so excited to have both Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn the podcast today. Today we explored silence, the power of psychedelics, how psychedelics allow us to tune in to that signal and what that signal is and why it matters. That process of discernment about what we choose to hear, what we choose to listen to, what we choose to act with silence is important.
0:02:00.8 PA: I had a ton of fun with Leigh and Justin. We went deep into meditation, leadership, the neurobiology of silence. Leigh and Justin together co-founded Astrea Strategies. They both have extensive experience with plant medicine. Leigh has been part of underground ceremonies for over 20 years. We go deep today.
This is their most vulnerable raw conversation that they’ve had about this new book, and I can’t wait for you to listen. But before we dive into today’s episode, a word from our sponsors.
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0:06:32.9 PA: Alright. That’s it for now. Let’s dive into this episode with Leigh and Justin. I hope you enjoy this conversation on the power of silence.
0:06:44.6 PA: Hey, listeners, welcome back to The Psychedelic podcast. Today we have Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn to talk about the power of silence. They’ve recently published a book called, Golden, the power of silence in a world of noise, and they are on here to talk about why silence is so key to reclaiming presence in our lives. Leigh and Justin, thank you for joining us for the podcast.
0:07:09.0 Leigh Marz: Thanks for having us Paul.
0:07:10.9 JZ: Really good to be with you Paul.
0:07:13.3 PA: Yeah, I’m looking forward to this conversation. Silence is a topic that I’ve been pretty obsessed with since my first psychedelic experiences, 12 to 13 years ago, looking at the neurobiology of what happens in the brain, looking at the power of silence between musical notes, looking at what it means to hold silence in a leadership position and what silence can do for discernment and decision-making. All of these things are, I think, topics that we get to explore today. So the way that I often like to lead in, when we have a couple of guests on the show is just to talk about the origin story of your relationship, how is it that you two know each other? How is it that you met? And why is it that you chose to write this book together?
0:07:56.2 JZ: We met about eight years ago now, through a mutual friend. I had just left Washington DC, my wife and I were about to have our first child, and I was feeling a little bit despondent about the state of the world. It’s a feeling that’s probably familiar to a lot of listeners, Paul. And Leigh and I connected about some ways that we could be of good service in the world. She has extensive experience in coaching and collaborations, consulting with organizations doing environmental work, work on various forms of social justice. And I had worked in Washington as legislative director for three members of Congress working on public policies around peace and justice and environmental sustainability, and it was a little bit after the 2016 election, we both had that feeling of despondence about the state of the world.
0:08:50.9 JZ: And in some of our introspective work including work with entheogens, we both got this intuition that the place to look for the answers as to how we can possibly bring more harmony and peace and positivity to the world, the place to look for answers was in the silence, not just getting beyond the everyday noise in our lives, but seeking profound silence and listening in this space for intuition. And we thought this idea seemed a little bit new age-y, of course, so we wanted to write about the least… Write about, for the least new-age-y publication we could think of, so we proposed the idea to Harvard Business Review, and we wanted to take this insight that came from deep, deeper contemplative work to that audience, and they said yes to our surprise, and the article ended up being one of the most read on their site in a two-year period and created the momentum to start exploring this topic more about silence. Leigh, what would you add to that?
0:09:54.1 LM: Just that when we got that signal that there was some interest here, even specifically with that audience, which surprised us, we decided to take a few steps back and to really tune in to what was being asked of us, and before getting maybe too mental about that exploration, we just said, “Ah, let’s just start talking to people. Let’s just start talking to them about silence.” And so we did just that, we had interviews with neuroscientists and politicians and poets, and a man incarcerated on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. We might touch in with him, about him a bit, Whirling Dervish, Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel, lumberjack, sound engineers, all kinds of people, and we asked them this question, “What’s the deepest silence you’ve ever known?”
0:10:44.0 LM: And it was really their answers that took us on this journey, ’cause we started with the article, we were really looking at auditory noise and silence and we’ll break down the types, the taxonomy of noise in a minute. But it was their answers that pointed us towards these moments that were often auditorily quite loud, births and deaths and moments of awe, moments like the 4 AM mark in an all night dance party, or roaring rapids, as you cut that perfect line. So that again, informed us and made the shape of this book, which explores all those dimensions of noise and silence, both external and internal.
0:11:28.6 PA: The paradox that you’re beginning to set up here is that in the moments that maybe may seem the loudest, there’s actually an incredible space there, that basically time stands still and we enter the space of no mind, which is what all the enlighten ones speak of, in terms of how they live and what emerges from that. And silence, just like death is often a… It’s a rich soil for growth, for renewal, for re-birth, and what I hear time and time again is the quality of ideas that emerges from deep periods of silence are the sort of… It’s the level of new systemic thinking that emerges from that that’s so critical and important, right? Because when we have these moments of silence, we see ourselves as deeply, deeply interconnected, because there’s a way to feel into energy. So when you talk about silence, how would you define silence? What is silence? There’s a part of me that just doesn’t wanna speak for the next five minutes, and like that symphony 4’33, I think is what it’s called, that’s four minutes and 33 seconds of sounds.
0:12:56.9 JZ: That’s right, yeah. That’s right.
0:13:00.3 PA: But how do you think about silence, in a world of noise?
0:13:04.6 JZ: Paul, you just hit on a lot of the meaning. This idea of no mind, for example, and this idea of silence as the place where really insight comes from. Our meaning… Our understanding of the meaning of silence, it starts with the meaning of noise, and how noise in two words is unwanted distraction. And that unwanted distraction can come in our ears, in our eyes, in our screens, or in our heads, like you just talked about this place of being in no mind. Sometimes the noisiest place, the place with the most unwanted distraction is within. So in the book, we explore the auditory elements of this unwanted distraction and interference, the informational and the internal.
0:13:53.2 JZ: And we look at evidence that in the modern world, all of these three types of noise are rising. There’s pretty clear evidence that we found that all these three types of noise are rising. So silence then, is at one level, it’s the absence of noise, it’s the absence of the unwanted interference, it’s not just… It’s not that the noise is any sound or data, it’s that which interferes with our clear perception and intention, so the silence is the place where nothing is interfering with your clear perception and your clear intention. And one way we think about it too is that silence is a space when no one is making claims on your consciousness. Sometimes people would ask us as like, you’re at Niagara Falls or you’re hanging out with a particularly loud, high decibel bird.
0:14:49.6 JZ: It’s like some could be high decibel in nature, but what we notice is that unlike the Twitter notification or email notification, where so much of the noise that’s trying to sell us something in the modern world, for example, the noises of nature aren’t making claims on our consciousness. So in these conversations with all these different people about the meaning of silence, the stories they told us about the deepest silence they’ve ever known, we started to realize that silence isn’t just the state of being outside or beyond any decibels in terms of literal sound and stimulus, but it’s this place where we don’t have anyone making claims on our consciousness. And what relates particularly to the psychedelic and entheogenic work is if we tune in as deeply as we can to the silence, we can find that in that supposed absence, we may find a presence.
0:15:48.2 LM: One thing, I’ll maybe just add here is, when we look at noise, is it really getting louder? The answer is yes, it is getting louder on all of those levels apparently. So auditorily, we look at siren engines as a proxy indicator of the surrounding sound, and those siren engines in the last 100 years have gotten six times more louder to pierce through the den and get our attention as they need to do. So, yes, auditorily. And in Europe, they’re much better at measuring decibel levels than we are here, so they estimate, the World Health Organization estimates that something like 65% of the population, 450 million people live at decibel levels that are harmful to our health. So that’s the auditory place, so yes, it’s louder. It feels louder. Yes, it is louder.
0:16:39.8 LM: Informationally, the past CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, estimated that every two days regenerates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003. Every two days, we generate that much information. And this is part of what we were struggling with, Justin and I, this feeling of despondency, that more information, more data, more PowerPoint presentations, more yelling and screaming and advocating for certain things, wasn’t really cutting through, it wasn’t making a difference, right? We feel that this onslaught of informational overload, and with that, there’s the internal chatter that can kick up. We believe there’s a relationship there, so we turned to Dr. Ethan Kross and the University of Michigan and his studies on internal chatter, that rumination and fixation, obsessing over the past, or worrying about the future.
0:17:42.4 LM: And our internal conversations that can be so harmful, so damaging, and there’s evidence that that is also louder and on the rise with the proxy indicators of anxiety and depression, right? So, he estimates that we listen to something like 320 State of the Union addresses every day of impressed… Compressed, internal speech. 320 state of the Union addresses were coming up. So, this is a ____ of just internal chatter, right? So auditorily, informationally and internally, the world is a louder place, so we turn to, “Where can we… How can we notice that? Take note of that, turn that volume down, but not just that, how can we actually invite in and appreciate and bring in more silence?”
0:18:30.1 PA: As we talk about this there’s a book that’s part of our training program for Third Wave. I’ve read it a couple times and it’s called Stealing Fire. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. And what Steven and Jamie explore in that are these ecstatic states. So they talk about Burning Man, they talk about microdosing, they talk about breath work, they talk about orgasmic meditation, right? These ecstatic states of being in their relationship to performance, more or less. And they’re making the case that the, I would say responsible use of ecstatic states is necessary for the creative inspiration to develop new paradigms that don’t lead to human extinction more or less, that’s kinda how I would read into it.
0:19:17.5 PA: And what I see is silence, silence undergirds ecstatic states, right? It is sort of more of a first principle that is why ecstatic states are so creative. So I’d love to hear you to talk a little bit and I think both of you, this is your expertise, so you’ll have fun with this. What’s the relationship between silence and performance? How do you look at that? How do you look at that relationship and how it relates to, we could say leadership, how it relates to creativity, how it relates to new policy? I don’t know if I would considered new policy performance but I think you get what I am up to.
0:19:57.3 JZ: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big part of the book is new policy and what it would look like to have a society that honors silence. And one of the main propositions in our book is that the problems facing humanity might not be solved with more thinking or talking. And we talk in the book about how the solutions to all these serious, personal and communal and even global challenges might be found somewhere else in the open space between the mental stuff. And you got at this before, Paul when you were starting to talk about this place beyond thought as the place where real insight comes from. I mean, at the most basic level there’s the studies of why we often have our best ideas in the shower when we’re away from our phones, away from the possibility to communicate.
0:20:48.9 JZ: And in the book we look at the idea that we think about offering people the advice to take a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities, which is having to think of what to say, that there’s value in resting those mental reflexes that are constantly needing to promote a reputation and promote a point of view. Because in our conversations with different neuroscientists and academic psychologists, one common denominator was this idea that we’re spending so much of our cognitive space, of our energy on that work of defending our reputation, of promoting our point of view, of needing to think of what to say, keeping up the entertainment of day-to-day life in a society that’s all about keeping up the conversation, keeping up the entertainment. So we look in the book at what’s possible in terms of creative solutions if we drop that requirement from ourselves to need to think of what to say. That relates of course to the science of flow, which links to this idea of getting beyond ruminative self-thought. Leigh, what would you add to that?
0:22:10.0 LM: Well, just that when we were writing this book we really wanted it to be a non meditators guide to getting beyond the noise. It’s even a non psychedelic user’s guide to getting beyond the noise. Although we’re really excited to explore that here. But just that there’s no one way, that what we’re trying to tune into is what truly brings you quiet. So we spoke with a professor of biobehavioral health and medicine Joshua Smyth, when we asked him about internal silence, that internal quiet we’re so interested in, he said, well, quiet is what people think quiet is. Quiet is what we experience it to be. So maybe there’s ecstatic states, you’re describing flow states of all kind, microflow states where you might be just doodling or reading or dropping in that way, getting out into nature. So we noticed that at this point in time there’s some really beautiful science coming out across disciplinary science, looking at these, this umbrella term they call self Transcendent-experiences. STEs.
0:23:03.3 LM: Which would include flow states, those ecstatic states, moments of awe, mystical experiences like we’re studying at Johns Hopkins and other places. And there’s a common feel there, there’s a common experience looking to Csikszentmihalyi’s work. One of the pieces we’re seeing in there is that self-referential thought that reflective self-consciousness falls away in this state. So we stop telling ourselves stories about ourselves. And when you first said something about performing, I was thinking of the other kind of performing where I’m performing for others. Well, so that falls away, right? I’m not in that performance kind of mind space. My ego itself has shrunk and yet my self that is expanded and connected to other things outside larger than me, nature, my God, other people, whatever it may be, energy that’s expanded. So we’re both smaller and larger at the same time.
0:24:00.1 LM: And somehow seemingly right sized in that experience and that experience of dropping reflective self consciousness is very quietening to us. And it’s very blissful overall looking at Csikszentmihalyi’s work and how that was such a shared, international experience of flow. There was always a word for it in all kinds of cultures and we love that. So this is a non meditators guide. The punchline isn’t go meditate unless that’s your thing, unless that’s your quiet. And then by all means do that. But we are really interested in everybody finding their way to their quiet and really validating that way. There’s a gentleman in the studies that Joshua Smyth looked at who was finding his quiet through chainsaw carving these large hunks of wood. You know, that was his way. And one of my ways is through psychedelic experiences, mind expanding experiences. And for many, many years I thought that was not gonna be something I would share. You know? And yet that is my deepest, longest practice for finding quiet, for discerning the noise from the true signal that I need to attend to.
0:25:13.5 PA: I’m so glad you brought up the signal versus noise kinda thing ’cause that was top of mind that I was gonna come back around to. It’s like, right, the signal is more or less that intuition, it’s sort of a deeper knowing. It’s a gnosis, it’s… The Greeks talked about the muses, right? When the noise falls away, the signal becomes much clearer. And that truth there’s sort of a divinity to it that people would say, right? There’s a divine knowing which feels often loved. And it feels like there’s a… Not that everything is determined for you but that you are taken care of to some degree, right? This is why the mystical experiences that they, for example, explore with psychedelics are so healing because people experience unconditional love for the first time that I think it’s the greatest signal that can be felt in many ways.
0:26:11.2 PA: I’d love to then go into the psychedelic component because as I mentioned in the intro psychedelics were something that taught me how to hold the tension of silence more than anything. Because at times the silence itself can also be too much and too overwhelming, right? This is the void, there’s a shamanic element to it which plant medicines again teach us how to navigate that and the capacity to navigate silence, the void and not succumb to it, maybe to some degree is what can define incredible creative output. So you mentioned psychedelics Leigh. Justin, we talked about this before we went live. But you have also yourself done some ritualized plant medicine, I think this is what we had discussed. What is it that you both have learned about silence through these experiences with entheogenic substances?
0:27:19.5 JZ: I could go first. Now, by saying that the conventional thinking these days is often that psychedelics could be a panacea for healing trauma, that these states of consciousness are the antithesis of our ordinary plugged in supersaturated with noise states. And in my experience working with sacred plants and psychedelics over the years is like, it’s important to recognize that there’s often an amplification of whatever noise is already going on in you. It’s not like, oh, we’re just gonna take these magical medicines that are gonna do the healing for us. It’s like we’ve gotta do the work. Sometimes in the psychedelic experience in the entheogenic experience, we’re given an opportunity to really go in and encounter the noise within ourselves and learn how to do the work.
0:28:18.6 JZ: As you were putting it really, really well, really eloquently, I thought Paul, find that the signal within that noise. And it’s just sometimes in ordinary waking life especially these days with this kind of overabundance of information a human being takes in these days in the US, take in five times as much information as we did 1986. It’s harder and harder to be able to find that signal. And the psychedelic experience, the entheogenic experience could be the kind of sandbox where we could go in and we can say, well, where is the noise in my life? And maybe the noise is so ever present that we don’t even know. There’s different levels of noise. There’s different buzzing, uncomfortable vibrations going on all the time.
0:29:10.1 JZ: And sometimes in the psychedelic experience, we can encounter a presence of silence that at first feels really frightening because we’re so used to the everyday noise and sometimes the everyday noise, the sound and stimulus is something that we can grasp onto to have a familiar reference point, even if it’s not in service of our clarity, even if it’s not in service of our wellbeing. So a big theme in the book for us is like the power of pristine attention. And as we get to know the noise in these entheogenic psychedelics, sacred plant medicine kinds of work, it’s possible to better know the noise and know what pristine attention is and get comfortable with pristine attention.
0:30:02.7 PA: Love it.
0:30:03.6 LM: I am, yeah. I’m trying to share a story that is really fresh. It’s really from this weekend when I was in circle with my community, about 16 of us gathered. ‘Cause I think it demonstrates this point. So our aim for the weekend, we usually go in with intentions, was to investigate joy in our lives, which for some was quite edgy. And for me was like, yeah. So I thought, you know, whenever I got this right, [laughter] but at the same time I’m in the phase of life, I have a teenage daughter. She’s a junior year in high school, so we’re preparing for her leaving. So I thought to myself but am I really savoring this joy? Am I really savoring it? And that was really working its way up into some noise and some finger wagging. You’re not savoring enough. It’s gonna go by too quickly. You’re gonna miss out. So I had that going in and I had a little bit more nervousness going in than I normally do for these weekends. I’ve been sitting with these folks for about five years or so.
0:31:14.8 LM: So I was noticing all that when I did get into that ceremonial space and the container was created, the medicines introduced cell column and those layers and I crossed that threshold, this somewhat bumpy part where things go a little bumpy for a bit and you settle in. I asked myself about this joy and the savoring, am I doing it? Like, what do I need to do? How do I do this better? And the answer came so clearly through you are savoring, that’s what you’re doing. She’s your teacher. You’re doing a beautiful job savoring. And there was just like this, that’s noise, Leigh, that you’re not doing it right. The clarity came, but what you can do better is to share that savoring with your husband, super clear. I didn’t need to spend hours and hours investigating that.
0:32:05.7 LM: It was just like, whoosh, boom, there, got it. Okay, thank you, I don’t know how long that would’ve taken me, how many months ever if I would’ve come to that. So this is part of that practice that’s now a 20 year practice for me. It was 20 years ago that my husband introduced me to my teacher, Ralph Metzner, where we go in with those intentions and investigate that noise and the true signal and then integrate it and bring it into our lives. So that’s really the practice for me. And throughout the process of writing this book we kept tuning in to the silence of the book itself and how to really serve the message we’re trying to give. And we really relied upon this expanded state of consciousness to make sure we were being true to the silence we wanted to bring to the world. Yeah.
0:32:58.5 PA: And as we talk about this, the other thing that’s coming through is these plant medicines themselves have an intelligence. And so in the spaciousness or the silence that opens up there’s also a relationship there with whether it’s ayahuasca or whether it’s psilocybin. Ralph wrote a lot about this in terms of psilocybin specifically, right? With how it has that. Terence McKenna has written extensively about this, even something like iboga, right? There’s this deep wisdom that comes from working with these plants. And so when they clear out all the detritus, all the extra, all the noise, right? And the shamanic work is part of this as well, the ceremony, the opening, the invocation, the music, right?
0:33:54.1 PA: Going back to this relationship between noise and silence. There’s incredible silence in music, right? One of my favorite things to do in ceremony is to leave like… Some people hate this. It’s so interesting. Like leave five minute gaps between songs and just see kind of… And you’ll have some people who will be like, “Play the music,” the silence is too much with the medicine at times. So I think that it goes back to like… I love how Justin mentioned pristine attention, right? Because when it’s very clean, it’s very pure. When even a lot of that sort of healing and therapeutic work has been done, that’s what then allows the capacity to be self-transcendence and to actually open up into these, right?
0:34:37.2 PA: That was… At the end of Maslow’s life he was like, actually beyond self-actualization is self-transcendence, right? So let’s explore that and what that means. And different medicines can do that in different ways. There’s something about the title of the book Golden, which I think is… I would love to hear your perspectives on. Gold is historically the most valuable metal that we’ve found as it has a beauty to it. Why is it that you think silence is such a… I almost wanna say golden goal although that kinda sounds like I’m talking about the World Cup, which I’m not, but what’s the relationship between golden and silence? How is it that silence leads to this sort of awakening, these states of bliss and beauty? Because when I think of gold I think of beauty.
0:35:44.3 JZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The title of the book comes from an ancient aphorism that’s often expressed as speeches of silver, silences of gold. And it exists in many different languages. And an ancient Islamic lineage said that the origin of the phrase speeches of silver, silences of gold came from King Solomon. And there’s a reference to it in a book from the 19th century, from a Scottish philosopher and mathematician named Thomas Carlyle. And he interpreted this saying as saying that speech is of time, silence is of eternity. And we think of it in the context of what you’re talking about of these expanded states of consciousness where we can start to have an image, have a glimpse of what eternity can mean.
0:36:46.2 JZ: And Paul, with what you were just saying about the fundamental intelligence of the plants that nature created, that we could tune into. Now, this relates really deeply to this work of knowing the noise that is our own neurosis, knowing the noise that’s our own social conditioning, or just like to use your word, detritus of having watched too much TV over our lifetime or whatever it might be or checking the phone too often. Like how we get beyond all of that noise within ourselves into this space of silence that is beyond how we typically experience time into these places of eternity. And I’ve had experiences where there is an encounter with the true intelligence of these gifts that nature has given us. And in my experience this has been an encounter with a golden light, with an experience that feels golden.
0:37:54.0 LM: The little thing I’m aware of is that what we’re describing here is shared silence. And there’s something about sharing that silence that really doesn’t just transform the individuals, but transforms that collective, and Ralph would argue, and potentially the planet. So we really treasure a shared silence. And we look in the book at these really sacred moments like this in meditation, in ceremony. But we also take that into our families and how do we share silence together as family and friends, friend groups, and even how do we do this at work so we can really bring that silence into all these aspects of our lives for whatever the highest, best good is there. So we believe wholeheartedly in that. And I’d like to decouple that silence is something you have to do alone. You can, but we really love sharing it.
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0:40:45.1 PA: There is something about ceremony, right? Shared ceremony. I grew up in the church every Sunday. Wasn’t my favorite, frankly. I slept through most of the sermons, Protestant church. And being like now that I’ve had some time to reflect on it, it was a beautiful sanctuary. We had one of the best organs in the world. The music was incredible. The vibes were super high. Like I’ve been to some other churches, the vibes were kind of sad. This was beautiful. And to have that ritual, it’s different with plant medicine. It’s different with the Santo Daime or the UDV, or it’s different with some of these syncretic religions that have emerged from the use of plant medicine. And there’s shared commonalities. And I sense, to get back to Justin, I love that thing from Thomas Carlyle about speech being time and silence being eternal.
0:41:47.2 PA: And I often think of speech being the mind and silence being the soul. And Plato, this is a Plato thing. I did not come up with this. He came up with this concept of substance duality in many ways through Kykeon and the Eleusinian Mysteries when working with these plant medicines, these psychedelic ergot-infused, alkaloid-infused beverages. And he went, oh, clearly the soul is transcendent or clearly the soul is eternal, clearly the soul is outside of time. And the mind, the ego, so to say, it’s bound by it. And it’s actually the paradox of what makes existence so interesting, because we can both explore the silence of transcendence and the beauty of a dualistic existence, more or less. And the concept of silence then, that ties all of these things together, that is eternal, that is transcendent, there’s also a physiological effect to it.
0:43:00.9 PA: And I’d love to hear sort of your thoughts and perspectives as getting into… As the listeners are thinking about silence, as they’re thinking about even the nervous system. What is that relationship between silence? It could even be community. There’s a lot of healing in community. It’s why I brought up religion, because I think some of these syncretic plant medicine religions that are emerging will help to sort of form new pockets of churches, so to say. But what’s that relationship between silence, community, and well-being, the nervous system, physiology, the autonomic, parasympathetic, or sympathetic to parasympathetic? What do we know about that?
0:43:45.7 JZ: About 150 plus years ago, Florence Nightingale was in charge of a British military hospital during the Crimean War, and the conditions in the hospital were just atrocious and gangrene, going unattended, unbelievable conditions of just basic sanitation and medical protocols being ignored. And in that context, as the head of the nursing in this hospital, Florence Nightingale emphasized the noise as one of her top-tier concerns. And it seemed kind of off, kind of strange to people, but she said that noise is one of the cruelest absences of care that could be inflicted on a person, sick or well. She recognized something that science, over just recent decades, has come to recognize, that noise, as we’re describing it, this unwanted distraction, unwanted interference, drives the fight or flight response, what we now know to be the fight or flight response in the body, in the mind, the nervous system. And that inhibits healing.
0:44:51.9 JZ: And in the book, we go on a tour of the research of the relationship between this unwanted interference, this noise, and the fight or flight response, and how that inhibits healing. And Florence Nightingale was actually really specific about how she defined different kinds of noise. She said that the most serious kind of noise was the kind of noise that left expectations in the mind, like a conversation in the hallway, just out of reach of intelligibility. Because that was the kind of conversation that created, the kind of noise that created more internal noise, left the person thinking, what was that person saying? So today, there’s a lot of research about this that you’re asking about. Now, researchers at Duke Medical School tested the effects of different types of sounds on the brains of mice, and they gave them classical music, white noise, and the mice pup sounds.
0:45:54.3 JZ: And it was silence, more than any of the other types of stimulus, that stimulated the growth of neurons in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain most associated with memory. And the principal investigator in the study wrote something that was really interesting to us, which is that it’s the act of, quote “trying to hear in silence that activates the brain and promotes neural development.” So from the perspective of, you know, we’ve been talking about ceremony of ritualized work with psychedelics and sacred plants, like there’s this element here of paying attention to the silence. Like you were talking, Paul, about leaving a five minute gap between the pieces of music that’s played. Actually taking the time to be in the silence, working to encounter the silence as not just this absence, not just like a time to get up and take a break, but be in the silence. Tune into the silence, let it bring us healing, let it bring us edification.
0:47:07.5 LM: Neuroscientists are also taking us in this direction, of course. And we pose in the book like, what if there was a mute button for the mind? I could use one from time to time. [laughter]
0:47:19.8 PA: Maybe with Neuralink or whatever else is coming out with these human brain interfaces, that becomes more possible.
0:47:31.6 LM: That’s a fun inquiry. And we really appreciated speaking with all kinds of neuroscientists, Arne Dietrich, Judson Brewer, Katie Devaney, and others about this question. And there’s still much debate, you know, is it about the prefrontal cortex? Is it transient hypofrontality, as Dietrich says? Or is it more about attentional networks synchronizing a certain way? Or is it about the posterior cingulate cortex? Or is it about the default mode network deregulating? All these things, you know, it’s like, there’s still… There’s what I… What we appreciated so much in these conversations, there’s such humility. There’s so little we know. And so actually, we turn to the spiritual traditions to really who understands the mind deeply. Actually, we look to the spiritual wisdom traditions for that knowledge.
0:48:22.1 PA: All of them? Some of them?
0:48:24.5 LM: I mean, we certainly didn’t look at all of them ourselves, what we…
0:48:27.7 PA: But all the major ones, like, so Huxley wrote the Perennial Philosophy in the 45, I think he published it, and basically in response to World War Two where he explored Buddhism, Hinduism, the Kabbalah. I think he explored Quaker, sort of these mystic traditions in the Christian Church, Sufism, and wrote this beautiful… I mean, it’s one of his… It’s my favorite book that he’s written about that overlap and that relationship, right? Because these wisdom traditions, they have a perennial philosophy, and it has a lot to do with silence.
0:49:00.0 JZ: We quote the book extensively. Yeah.
0:49:00.4 PA: Really?
0:49:00.7 JZ: The Perennial Philosophy is a big part of this book. Yeah. Yeah.
0:49:01.5 PA: Oh, that’s phenomenal. Oh, wow. It’s a lovely surprise for this podcast.
0:49:08.7 LM: Yeah, and every tradition you mentioned, we go in pretty deep exploration of the Quakers, the Sufis, the Hinduism, Judaism, every, you know, pretty much, we try to hit all the biggies and Buddhism, of course. Yeah, yeah. So this question, it’s just a beautiful one. The bottom line is that there’s so much coming out, bigger understanding, greater understanding, so much of a desire just to look here. And the science, this very scientific chapter ended up feeling quite mystical, quite spacious and beautiful. So invite your listeners to check it out. But this is an age old inquiry. How do we quiet down that mind after all, and find… And so we can tune into truth. So we can tune into whatever the signal is we’re trying to get.
0:49:56.7 PA: And finding that meeting point of the science and mystical, I think is maybe the greatest task that we as humanity face, right? And it’s actually the convergence of that is what we are currently living through. Even the research paper on psilocybin, psilocybin occasioning mystical type experiences, that was published in 2006, right? It’s like, in many ways, that’s groundbreaking because we’re saying this normally ethereal, hard to track thing we can track. Now there’s a dark side to that as well, which we all know. But that’s why we look for balance. So I love the concept of the middle way and Taoism in terms of those two. And that was actually going to be my next question.
0:50:34.6 PA: So how do we think about this sort of, how do you think about this overlap between what I would… I mean mysticism, but even more so than mysticism, ancient traditions, ancient wisdom and science and artificial intelligence and neuro feedback and brain hacking and tech, cutting edge tech and scientific technology. And one more thing I’ll say on this, we’ve been having this conversation for 3000 years. This was actually the distinction between the Greeks and the Orientals in many ways. In China, I don’t know if that’s a commonly accepted term these days, but the Asian traditions, there was this mysticism that was much more prevalent and the Greeks were very logical, rational, scientific in terms of exploring that. So it feels like history repeats itself in many ways and that we are now re-confronting that from a civilizational perspective about how do we balance those two aspects and elements to create new paradigms, new systems, so.
0:51:46.9 JZ: I really appreciate the very expansive way that you frame this question. And we really have a guide in this, the connection between science and spirituality, the connection between mystic contemplation and empiricism. And it is an ancient Greek philosopher and that’s Pythagoras. A lot of people know from his name the theorem they often learned in middle school math class about how to find the long side of a right triangle. But Pythagoras, 2500 years ago, invented so much, discovered, created so much, ranging from astronomy to climatology to musical tunings to understandings of mathematics that undergirded most of the line of thinking through Greece to modern day. And he was certainly an empirical researcher, but he was also the leader of a mystery school.
0:52:48.3 JZ: You know, he studied astrology and numerology and he taught a doctrine for understanding reincarnation. And if you wanted to study with Pythagoras and be part of his inner circle, there were a bunch of different requirements you needed to make around diet and lifestyle and commitments, vows that you had to make. But one, according to the expert on ancient mythology, Manly P. Hall, was that a student in his inner circle needed to spend five years in silence, five years not talking. So, we look in the book at like, why? Like, that’s a pretty serious requirement there. So, we look at this question of like, how might five years in silence change the architecture of your mind?
0:53:48.3 JZ: We have this chapter of the book, Why Silence is Scary, and we look at how these days… There was a study at the University of Virginia where undergraduate students had the option to sit with no phones, no entertainment for 15 minutes, where they could buzz themselves with a very painful electric shock. And initially, everyone said that they would actually pay money to avoid this electric shock when they were told how painful it was. But after 15 minutes in silence, 67% of the men and 25% of the women chose to shock themselves rather than just sit alone with themselves in silence. Now, juxtapose that to Pythagoras requiring his inner circle student to spend five years in silence. So, what does it do to the mind? What is it that we, as the University of Virginia study demonstrates, what is it that we’re so averse to today that Pythagoras recognized as so important? So this is a theme we explore in the book.
0:54:56.7 LM: Another theme is really keeping in mind that this is something we know innately. It’s innate to being human. This isn’t a new-fangled life hack. We don’t necessarily need all these studies to know this to be true. We can investigate through our own vessels and take note of that. So we do our own sort of balancing of being really interested in what’s happening in the science. So I remember speaking with Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist who said, yeah, we put all these things on and people’s measure for big moments, big epiphanies and he’ll say there’s one right there and the person will report, no nothing happened or they’ll have a big epiphany and that won’t show on the machinery and we’re really just a long way away. Like we cannot fool ourselves into thinking we know all that much.
0:55:46.7 LM: And that’s why we bring up the humility that we actually encountered when we were exploring the science here. There’s a lot way way way more we don’t know than we do know and there’s always turning to our knowing as well to find our way, what’s our true ally in a psychedelic space, what is the method that really speaks for us, makes us feel safe, takes us into places that we want to go and tunes us into silence and what’s true for us. ‘Cause there’s a lot of noise kicking up in this movement, right, of course. So getting maybe a little too fixated on what the science is showing us or a little to all kinds of things. So I think part of what Justin and I really want to hold is that the quiet and the clarity of what is this really, is such a blessing in our lives. Silence. And if it’s your way, expanding your consciousness and investigating silence and noise and signals, but really taking a humble exquisite care and noticing in that state.
0:56:54.0 PA: We had Adam on the podcast, probably about a year ago now. A little more than a year ago. And this whole… Now, Robin Carhart-Harris is also at UCSF. Robin did a lot of the brain neuro imaging studies in LSD and Psilocybin. It’s how that one really popular graphic came out, placebo versus psilocybin, the interconnectivity of the hemispheres of the brain. Phenomenal. I think it’s… FMRI imaging, it was like, “Oh, it’s clear.” And a lot of what they’re doing is, I think, so novel and new, and they’re trying to get so microscopic about the precision of data points, that I agree with you. I think we’ll get there eventually, but it’s taking time, and there will always be a deeper knowing on the internal than the external, there’s a balance, of course.
0:57:48.3 PA: The external can inform the internal, but the internal still is sort of the fundamental truth. And I just wanna say something about what Justin was talking about with Pythagoras. Because I didn’t know five years of silence was required, The Vipassana meditative retreats that people go on are 10 days. I’m intending to go on my first dieta with Ayahuasca this year, so it’s 12 days, five Ayahuasca ceremonies, mostly silence, dieta plant. There’s a few different plants that I’m looking at. Five years is totally insane, I think, for lack of a better term. And wow, because Pythagoras, for historical context, from a chronological perspective, he’s a pre-socratic polymath that, like you said, most people know from eighth grade geometry class, and there was so much more to it.
0:58:49.6 PA: And Alfred North Whitehead, who was a well-known, I believe, English philosopher in the 19th, 20th century, staid that, “Everything in Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato.” And Plato, so much of what he talked about and when he came to, came from Socrates, which Socrates was heavily influenced by Pythagoras, so to have that sense of silence as the bedrock of all of that is fantastic, and there was some relationship there then between also Buddhism. Buddhism is older. Buddhism is 4000, 5000 years, but there was influence in those Greeks with some of these tenants of Buddhism that informed a lot of this early philosophy that was coming from Pythagoras, and Socrates, and whatnot, because of the ancient Asian perspective. Alexander the Great was someone, I know he was post, but landed on this and talked a lot about this.
0:59:48.9 PA: So I’m gonna stop rambling, because I wanna… And I have one final question for you before we wrap today, which is the applicability of silence in leadership, executive leadership, political leadership positions, as you started to weave these in as coaches and consultants and teachers, into these higher levels, what are you noticing? What’s changing, what’s happening, what’s improving, what’s… ‘Cause I sense silence as being more weaved in, and we haven’t really talked on the podcast about how is it actually impacting people? How is it that their leadership is improving, how is it that they’re showing up with more presence, etcetera, etcetera? What does that mean for the future of where we’re going maybe in particular, ’cause we can get a little visionary since we talked about Pythagoras.
1:00:44.9 JZ: Yeah, I think this is a really relevant question to the integration of the psychedelic and entheogenic experience, like you were talking about days in silence, or even if it’s just one experience where we can open up a realm of silence and have a few hours that may touch on five years in terms of our experience, that’s possible. How do we integrate that when we then show up at the office again on Monday morning? How do we integrate that when we’re taking care of our kids the next day? What does it actually mean when the rubber meets the road? So we really looked at teachers, we looked to stories. Cyrus Habib was the Lieutenant Governor of Washington, went blind when he was eight-years-old, and became a road scholar, and has this stratospheric rise very quickly in politics and shocked everyone by leaving to become a Jesuit priest and just live in the silence essentially for a long time during his training.
1:01:46.4 JZ: Jarvis J. Masters who we had mentioned, spent 30 years on death row for a crime that the evidence is clear that he didn’t commit. And he’s become a leader within the context he’s living, a role model, a reference for people, and really increasingly in society at large, as his case has been known. And he finds these little pockets of silence in a life when even his being allowed to go outside is prescribed, his being allowed to take a shower, to do the most basic thing is just prescribed, and he is able to find these little micro-moments of silence, these pockets of silence. And so we look to their examples, and the final third of the book is really about practice.
1:02:36.0 JZ: Everyday practices for individuals, how we can moment to moment throughout our days find silence. Practices for individuals to find deeper, more rarified silence from time to time. And then we look at the practices that are shared with co-workers and collaborators, and families and friends, and then we look at what it would mean to bring this appreciation of pristine attention into public policy and law. So the book is full of 33 different practices of all these different levels. Leigh, you wanna get into the leadership and collaboration piece? And know that’s your expertise, too. [chuckle]
1:03:20.2 LM: Idea of a good time. No, Justin and I are both really passionate about work in climate and removing toxic chemicals from our products, and been working with a group of scientists and engineers for a decade now, who this problem of toxic chemicals is so huge, and the way that… The strategies that had been used banning one chemical to get its close cousin, that was just as bad or worse, regrettable substitution, they call that. That strategy, that wack-a-mole strategy wasn’t working. So we went out to the Redwoods for a summit with regulators, scientists, business folks, and NGOs to think about this problem that they all wanted to get at, this complex problem for some novel thinking to come forth. “How can we come at this problem differently, ” they asked.
1:04:16.7 LM: And in the silence and the bark of the redwoods absorbing things, getting out of kind of a… We had no WiFi, and doing less PowerPoints and taking hikes and getting connected to this thing we were wanting to preserve in the world, they crafted a real meaningful solution around clustering these chemicals and families in classes, and then proposing legislation and then looking at their supply chains and asking, “Is it just such a complicated issue with 40,000 largely regulated chemicals in our products? So it took us getting out of the four walls and this and that, and the PowerPoint streams and all that, and also took us talking with one another. These groups don’t normally connect, and so I work with them to build that relationship, that trust to read some poetry, to get them dancing and moving and get them in a space where they can share the silence, and that’s where that best thinking, in their case, has come through that shared silent.
1:05:19.3 LM: So we’ve been doing that work for a decade now, and we take that smaller scale, Justin and I too, how can we brainstorm differently? How can we generate ideas, not just with the tyranny of the fastest and loudest coming forward, but with some actual deep reflection, marginalized voices coming in, having the space to come in, including the quieter voices in each one of us. So there’s so many strategies for that that we go through in the book, because conventional thinking is that fastest, quickest, loudest thing. If we really want breakthrough novel thinking on these issues we’re working on, we need silence, and we need to learn how to build that capacity. So with leadership too, I think it’s an imperative that the leaders really tuning into their silence and that true signal, because there’s just so much pulling in everyone’s attention right now.
1:06:16.9 PA: For executive leadership, one idea that I’m meeting consistently with a private group once a month, mostly coaches who have gone through our training program about the overlap of executive coaching and psychedelics, because there are a lot more executives who are becoming interested in working with this. And I dated someone recently who did a lot of HR, and psychedelics in the executive room is an HR nightmare for obvious reasons. We’ve been exploring what’s the balance and sort of the middle point there? And one idea that we’ve landed on is, YPO groups to do retreats that are going to not to necessarily a full executive team, but to leaders from different organizations and different positions who then in that collective shared silence can… Something new can emerge. Right? There’s just a lot more spaciousness there.
1:07:17.0 PA: And it feels like some of the teachings from the… These plant medicines around interconnectedness are imperative to shifting the paradigm of business to be more, let’s say, aware of certain externalities, like you were just talking about, and becoming aware of those externalities and realizing that there’s actually no such thing as an externality, that we can ideally build ecosystems that are regenerative in nature and much healthier, and much more sustainable. So the final thing that I’ll end with is, I’m really excited now to read the book, I hadn’t had a chance to go into a full reading mode on it before having this conversation, and this conversation has made me quite excited about diving in. So I wanna thank both of you for your profound shares and words, and just as a final thing, if folks are interested in learning more about your work, if they wanna learn more about the book, where can they go, what are great next steps to check out more about what you are up to?
1:08:33.1 LM: Thank you for that. I hope you do read it, and you can get “Golden, the Power of Silence in the World of Noise” anywhere you find books, Amazon, bookshop.org, your independent bookseller, your library. We also love to put a plug in for Prentice Onayemi, our reader, the narrator for the book, because he brings such silence to it for many people. Probably some of your podcast listeners, auditories, the channel, they like to experience books. So he’s amazing, he makes it better. [laughter] So we love him for that. You can find us at at astreastrategies.com, that’s A-S-T-R-E-A strategies.com, our work bridging contemplation and action in the world. What else? What am I missing, Justin? That good?
1:09:21.0 JZ: That’s good.
1:09:23.2 LM: Yeah, so you’ll find us. We don’t have a huge social media presence as we probably can mention [laughter] being on brand, but you can find us on LinkedIn if you’d like.
1:09:34.0 PA: Justin, any final words from you?
1:09:38.0 JZ: Just what you were just saying about the role of psychedelics and entheogens, and work and collaboration. I really like your thought there to be able to have a space where people in a young professional group, for example, can be in silence in the practice, because sometimes, back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this conventional thinking that psychedelics can just be a panacea for everything, like people go and take MDMA, “Oh, they’ll just go sort out the problem together.” [chuckle] It often doesn’t, it doesn’t create the kind of psychological safety. It’s not a good container to try to go in and work out a serious problem in the world in that space.
1:10:19.3 JZ: But to honor the wisdom of silence together can create a way for people to bond more deeply, be in a space where they can have insights together. The power of silence is often magnified when it’s shared, as we explore in the book. So I think you’re on to something really good about having these spaces of silence for people to do that work and then come together later and integrate together and look at questions. Look at problems together in a new light. So appreciate the work you’re doing, Paul, appreciate you having us. And this was a really beautiful conversation for us. We’ve been doing a lot of media and podcasts around the book, but it’s pretty rare that we get to go so deeply into what we’re really feeling and seeing as we have in this conversation.
1:11:07.4 LM: Yeah, thank you for your questions.
1:11:09.9 PA: Yeah, this is fun. I’m glad. I respond to maybe 2% of PR requests that come through, and I had to say yes to this one, it’s been well worth it. So I appreciate you both coming on, and sharing the space. It’s been a really fun conversation.
1:11:33.8 JZ: Thanks, Paul.
1:11:33.9 LM: Thank you.
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