#008 Silence as a tool and as a practice

In this hotpot issue, we explore how silence can be a powerful tool and practice to seek for deeper meaning and tranquillity within ourselves.

#008 Silence as a tool and as a practice
Reminder when entering the dominican monastery of Santa Caterina in Palermo, Sicily

Dear Hotpot readers,

In this Hotpot issue we talk about silence and cutting through the noise by, paradoxically, creating some more.

Welcome to the information age, an age defined by food vocabulary: information diets, binge-watching, content consumption, information digestion, click baits, and feeds. The information age is yummy.

The greatest information platforms and innovations occurred just as I was about to enter my twenties. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram. Now, generative AI. Inventions that are so disruptive we could refer to what came "Before" and "After", as we do with BC and AD.

How we communicate, learn, work, and grow has radically changed since these technologies became integral parts of our daily lives, for the better or the worse.

New platforms offer new avenues for content creation and distribution and some of the content formats I immediately fell for were podcasts.

Podcasts opened up new learning opportunities and made me go down rabbit holes I would not have explored otherwise. I used to listen to loads of them, anytime I would find myself alone 🎵. All those moments of boredom on a public subway or on the commute to work vanished, as I could immerse myself in topics I was interested in detaching myself from reality and from the present.

If you know me, you know I am a big walker. Walking is a dimension of connection with my body and mind that I picked up years ago. Walking takes big chunks of time out of your day, and I thought learning while moving could be an even better use of that time. I could walk for a few hours before or after work and plug into the current or the next day with new notions about something I like. I always had new insights to reflect on but eventually, I felt a certain fatigue. The intake of information was too much.

When I walk now, I leave the earbuds on my desk and I just walk. In silence. No music, no audio, no distractions.

Silent walk above the clouds. May 2024, Pantelleria

Silence is a tool

What is silence? Absence of sound? Lack of communication? Emptyness and void? For some, most likely many, it is a powerful tool. The first of those many were the Stoics, philosophers, and thinkers who believed we should focus on what we can control, such as our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and that by doing so we can achieve a great sense of inner peace and tranquillity.

Silence is a practice

For the Stoics, silence was seen as a means to achieve greater self-awareness and emotional stability. By practicing silence they could learn to control their thoughts and emotions, rather than being controlled by them.

This sounds very familiar to the mindfulness practice I have been introduced to by my friend Benas over the last month, on top of which, as a good student, I should add the concept of infusing this practice with loving kindness towards your thoughts and emotions.

Silence as a practice is also a key concept in Zen Buddhism. Kinhin, for instance, is a practice that integrates mindfulness into movement, through slow and silent walking and meditative awareness.

Silence is multidimensional

In this issue, we consider silence a multidimensional concept in opposition to noise. Noise in the most basic and standard classic communication diagram creates resistance between sender and receiver and the messages and responses sent between them. Good communication implies cutting through the noise, no matter its nature.

With this diagram in mind, representing communication in the exterior world, I inverted and flipped inwards the receiver as if the communication happened within ourselves.

Do this exercise with me and try to identify what part of you is the sender and the receiver, what messages and responses are being exchanged and most importantly, identify the noise and try to find ways to tune it down.

While I am no spiritual guide or trained teacher of any kind, I do seek a more intentional, perhaps stoic, existence. Reflecting on my past behaviors, when overwhelmed, stressed, or uneasy, I try to reduce the noise around me to reach more clarity.

How? Several ways! Tidying up, getting rid of stuff, from clothes to apps on my phone, striving to reach what is just essential. Striving to desire and be happy with less.

I am curious to know how you reduce the noise in your life.


Noise is an epidemic and silence has many enemies. From the notifications on our devices to their proximity to our hands and sight, to the dopamine-stimulating and addictive mechanics, to the fact that real-time is simply too much to take and having information before anyone else is a competitive advantage, to the connectivity that defines how we live and work.

To everything I just mentioned there are of course great benefits that have propelled our society into the future that we might not be hardwired to cope with. Are we in control of the technology that we use daily or is the technology taking control of ourselves? Are our feeds reflections of our identity or is our identity shaped by our feeds? Are we ever alone? Are we even capable of being alone?

Literary References

Walden by Thoreau

American naturalist and essayist, Henry David Thoreau, who lived 2 years in a cabin in the woods, stripped his life of the unnecessary and strived to reconnect with nature through isolation and silence.

The poetry of Rumi

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rumi, a Persian poet from the 13th Century, described silence as the language of God and the means through which we can reach the divine.

"In silence, there is eloquence. Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves." For Rumi silence can enhance our perception and understanding of ourselves revealing what is obscured by the frenetic nature of life.

If you’d like to think about silence and jot down a few thoughts, you can write to hotpot@andreabrena.com or fill out this survey with a few questions for you.

The last questionnaire has been a success. You know who you are. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with me.


  • The Pillow: I discovered this very successful YouTube channel and have been watching many videos about people who decide to live in solitude. Andrea is a kind interviewer and has been doing a great job in portraying the people and their stories without romanticizing an extraordinary social condition of life. After you forward this email to someone who you think might like hotpot, subscribe to the pillow as well. Most videos are in Italian, but do I need to tell you about autogenerated captions on YouTube?
  • In Berlin, hairdressers offer silent cuts. I left all my long curls in Pantelleria a couple of weeks back. I loved talking to the hairdresser Gianpiero and building a connection through conversations. How would you react? In Leipzig, there are mixed feelings.
  • The most silent place on earth is an anechoic chamber in Minneapolis. You could hear your blood flowing through your veins. An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning "non-reflective" or "without echoes") is a room designed to stop reflections or echoes of either sound or electromagnetic waves.
  • The power of silence in music. Music is made by sound, and by silence too. The right combination of these two elements is what generates emotion. The silence that will never stop amusing me is between 10:52 and 10:54 of this mix by Nicolas Jaar. Get there from the very beginning and look in this newsletter for the 🎵 for another great track.
  • Sound people in my network (and wonderful humans):
    Fabio Rizzoli - Sound Design and Audio Production
    Diego Santin - Audio Branding
  • What made me fall in love with the work of Craig Mod is how he cut through the noise with his SMS publishing. So good.
  • OIO Summer School. Don't miss out on this one.
    Apply here
    A chance to work alongside the oio team, crafting future products and interactions with AI and emerging technologies, in the beautiful settings of a villa in Puglia, Italy. No previous skills or experience required.
    Come and learn practical behind-the-scene design skills by working alongside the team who delivered hundreds of design and technology projects for many clients.
  • Perhaps in fear of too much silence and loneliness during my upcoming sabbatical, I started looking into platforms that facilitate opportunities to get in touch with communities (of different sorts) and I discovered WWOOF and Workaway, platforms that connect farm owners and volunteers and facilitate fairtrade exchange between them. I am going to explore this, for sure!

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Thank you very much for reading and your continued support.