WASHINGTON (Feb. 28, 2011)—On Jan. 27, 1973, his 27th birthday, John Francis decided to give up talking for the day — as a gift to friends who had to put up with his arguments and chatter. Little did he know that he would remain silent for the next 17 years — or that his silence would take him on a remarkable journey of discovery in which he came to appreciate the importance of listening and gained a deeper understanding of his own life and those of the people around him.
In THE RAGGED EDGE OF SILENCE: Finding Peace in a Noisy World (National Geographic Books; ISBN: 978-1-4262-0723-5; March 15, 2011; $26; hardcover), Francis describes his extraordinary odyssey, during which he mastered and learned to harness the incredible power of silence. At the same time, Francis had given up using motorized transportation in favor of walking, after witnessing an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. His walking pilgrimage lasted more than two decades and is chronicled in his first book, “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking, 17 Years of Silence,” which tells of his silent walk across America to raise environmental consciousness and promote world peace.
In THE RAGGED EDGE OF SILENCE, Francis, a National Geographic Education Fellow, shares the insights, observations, lessons and experiences garnered during his silent quest. He found that through silence he was better able to understand the journey he — and all of us — are on: to discover who we are and to find our place in the world. “I soon discovered that hidden at the edge of silence was healing, not only for an angry mind, but for an angry spirit,” he writes. “Silence is always there to take us to a place inside where we reside in peace.”
Becoming a good listener was one of the greatest gifts he received from not talking. “Each day I did not speak, I realized the importance in listening was not only to receive the heart of another through my attention, but also having an opportunity to learn something that I might otherwise not learn. Being attentive to fellow humans is being in communion, which is a sacred act. When we engage in attentive listening with silence and understanding, we can be open for the meaning of life to enter into our being.”
Francis invites readers to turn down the chatter in their own lives to arrive at a new level of appreciation for the beauty of the planet and our place in it. He quotes research findings that people who were voluntarily silent for four or more days reported the following:
- Experiencing the essence of one’s being
- Experiencing one’s inner life with a heightened sense of awareness
- Experiencing more acutely through the senses
- Feeling connected and/or unified with various aspects of existence
- Experiencing a wide range of intense feelings and emotions
- Perceiving the experience as ineffable
- Experiencing auditory, visual, perceptual and/or other sensory alterations
- Feeling rejuvenated
Using his own inner and outer journey of self-discovery and his powerful tales of communicating for 17 years without speaking, Francis explores the long tradition of silence, its effect through the ages and the impact it has on the modern world. He interweaves stories of silence throughout history and around the world — including practices by Native American, Hindu and Buddhist cultures — as he tells of the effect of silence on body and mind, and the symbiotic relationship between silence and creativity.
Simple lessons follow each chapter, teaching readers, through practical exercises, how to integrate the power of silence into daily life; how to improve introspection, listening and observation skills; how to foster stronger relationships; and how to become better stewards of the Earth as they embark on their own path of personal discovery and find peace in a noisy world.
About the author: John Francis, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the nonprofit environmental organization Planetwalk. He completed degrees at Southern Oregon University, the University of Montana and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — all while silent and walking from state to state. “The Ragged Edge of Silence” is his second book; the first was “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking, 17 Years of Silence” (National Geographic, 2008). A National Geographic Education Fellow, Francis is developing Planetlines, an environmental curriculum for grades K-12 and universities.
Note: To arrange an interview with Francis, or for images from the book, contact Carrie Engel at (202) 457-8449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.