Why Erling Kagge, the explorer who reached both poles and the summit of Everest, says that his greatest feat was finding silence in everyday life.

Max Seitz (@maxseitz)

29 enero 2018

erling kagge

Original en Español. Trad. Revista ARIEL

Erling Kagge, an explorer of nature and... silence. (Photo: Penguin/Simon Skreddernes)

Erling Kagge is an extraordinary being: he is the first explorer in history to reach the "three poles" of the Earth: the North, the South and the summit of Mount Everest.

But he assures that this, carried out in the early 90s, does not even compare with his greatest feat: having discovered in the middle of the "white nothingness" of Antarctica, during a solitary 50-day walk, the transformative power of silence.

Kagge, 54 (2018), is not referring to the absence of acoustic noise, but to something more essential and profound.

The Norwegian adventurer, writer and editor is the author of the best-seller "Silence in the Age of Noise", which has been translated into thirty languages.

There he offers 33 ways to discover "inner silence" in our daily lives, no matter how busy or distracted we are, and without the need to travel to extreme and remote places like the ones he explored.

Kagge spoke with BBC Mundo before his participation in the Hay Festival of Cartagena, which was held in the Colombian city.

How was the experience in Antarctica that made you feel for the first time that silence was something crucial for you, something that you should seek in order to be a more fulfilled person?

It was something gradual. In the first days of my walk to the South Pole I realized that I no longer had the same worries as before and that the rest of the people, like paying the bills. Then, as the weeks went by, I began to feel more and more part of nature.

It was as if my body did not end at the extremities, but as if it had spread out into the frozen environment, to the horizon. I felt in unity with what surrounded me. I had no contact with the world; My radio had broken.

Walking in that white nothingness for 50 days made me experience how enriching silence can be. It was an inner silence beyond the lack of noise in Antarctica. He was my best friend during the journey.

But beyond this extraordinary experience in an inhospitable place, acoustic noise is constant in most of the world: vehicles on the street, airplanes in the sky, and the hustle and bustle in the workplace, in shops and even in our house. Is absolute silence really possible?

I have looked for absolute silence, but I have not been able to find it. In the US and Denmark, for example, there are acoustically isolated rooms where you can go to get a break from the noise. They are part of a new trend and a growing business.

But the problem is that even if you go to a place like that, you take some noise with you. For me, noise is distractions, everything that disturbs us.

Therefore, it is another type of silence that one must look for: the existential one, not the acoustic one. It's the one that's there inside you all the time. That silence is the most important thing in life, although it is underestimated in today's society.

You claim that we are afraid of silence because it can make us uncomfortable.

When I was a child, silence seemed boring to me; I felt like nothing was happening, that I was waiting for something that never came. I didn't value it at all.

But today that I am a father and have three teenage daughters, I appreciate it very much. I see in them what happens to many people: human beings are afraid of silence because it makes us find ourselves and sometimes what we find inside is uncomfortable. Inside us there may be wonderful things, but also disturbing ones.

In this sense, scientists from the universities of Harvard and Virginia, in the United States, carried out a revealing experiment. They left individuals of all ages in a room alone for 15 minutes, without music, reading material, or electronic devices. The volunteers had the possibility of interrupting the test, but to do so they had to press a button that gave them an electric shock. And even though this was painful, many preferred to press the button because the experience of being with themselves without doing anything seemed intolerable.

Is it possible to find the silence you describe in the midst of our busy lives, where we work and consume a lot and are hyperconnected?

Even in the conditions in which we live today, we should not underestimate our ability to find inner silence.

Often much of what we do is redundant. I sometimes find myself Googling the same thing two or three times a day, or checking the news or social media on different occasions to finally realize that nothing has really changed. We are filling ourselves with things that are unnecessary.

It is perfectly possible not to look at the internet or your mobile phone for a while and go for a walk or go to the park for 30 minutes, to be in contact with nature and with yourself. Almost everything else can wait; you don't miss anything important.

How do you find inner silence in your daily life, without having to go to inaccessible places like Antarctica? Can you give some concrete examples?

I have a very busy life. My job as an editor is very demanding, I have three daughters, I travel and write books. So I am surrounded by noise.

Even so, I try to take minutes for myself when I can. I usually find silence when I wash dishes at home. Or when I walk to the office or relax in the bathtub.

But there are thousands of other ways to achieve it. For example: having moments without interruptions or getting lost in something. Surprise, fascination or beauty can lead us to silence. Art and music too. Or just sit for a moment, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Or do nothing, empty your mind.

You say we live in an age of noise in which we have less attention span than a goldfish. That makes everything more difficult, doesn't it?

To tell the truth, human beings have always found it difficult to relate to silence. But today we face, like never before, an explosion of temptations with social networks, mobile phones and other devices. And I think that this way we are missing out on the possibility of having a fuller life.

It was hard for me to realize that my daughters lived in constant noise, especially with technology, and that they did not know what inner silence was.

I'm not saying that technology is bad, but the way we relate to it, in an addictive way, gorging ourselves to escape from ourselves, is a problem.

In your book you talk about the "dopamine loop" that keeps us trapped in technology. Can you explain it?

In biological terms, we tend to become addicted to certain things thanks to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates motivation and reward.

Dopamine makes us want something and feel satisfaction when we get it. But since we like the feeling of reward so much, we want more of the same. It is a vicious circle. Thus, the more inundated we are by technology, the more we want to be distracted by it.

Obviously large corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat know this and are "hacking" us. I'm not saying that they are the bad guys in the movie, they are brilliant people, but they want you to depend on their sites and apps to feel satisfied... Something like "I share (or search), therefore I am."

Returning to your experience of silence, could it be said that it has several levels of depth?

Yes. I sometimes find a deep silence when I walk. On the other hand, when I sweep the kitchen I don't find such deep silence. Sometimes silence can give the feeling that time stops; other times not. It is a diverse and different experience for each one.

What do you think about yoga and meditation? They are useful?

Absolutely, they help a lot. But to achieve the silence I'm talking about, no technique is needed. It is a silence that one can find throughout the day for brief moments, without requiring a system. There is not a magic formula; It's more like common sense.

Is silence a luxury, despite being free?

Unfortunately there is a class distinction when we talk about noise and silence.

People from more disadvantaged sectors live with more noise. They work and live in noisier places, in areas with busy streets or where air routes pass. They tend to occupy buildings with less sound insulation and their cars are probably noisier, as are their appliances. While people with greater resources live in quieter places. This is nothing more than a reflection of the inequality in the world.

What would you advise, then, to those disadvantaged by noise?

Let them not think that it is difficult to find silence even if their circumstances are adverse. I insist: silence is within everyone's reach because it is within us and it is possible to achieve it in everyday life.

If silence is, as you claim, an individual experience, can it somehow become a shared experience?

Silence is not turning your back on the world. It is the opposite: it is opening up to the world and seeing yourself in that world, and even loving the people around us more.

In my book I cite an experiment they did in France, in which they had a man and a woman sit face to face so they could look into each other's eyes for several minutes without saying a word. At the end of that brief period, many of them said they had achieved a degree of intimacy never before achieved, and some of those couples ended up getting married.

Silence is essential for intimacy in relationships. I think about my girlfriends: when I had to talk all the time, filling the relationship with words, it was frustrating, it meant we couldn't be silent together and alone at the same time, so we missed out on an enriching experience.

Words are very good, yes, but sometimes they generate noise. If one has to explain everything in life, existence can become tedious.