By Ian Kennedy
There is a whirlwind of noise upon our senses. This leaves many people with little to no ability to become silent, or to tolerate silence. It is easy to notice. How many people walk around with headphones on, earbuds in while talking on the phone, or listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks instead of reading in silence? Notice how many athletes do commercials for headphones and walk into stadiums with them on.
Many people find it difficult for any length of time beyond thirty seconds to marinate in silence. Silence and its benefits have become a casualty of the overload of sound in our modern environment.
Silence by definition is the complete absence of sound. It is the act of abstaining from speech. It can also be the state of standing still and not speaking as a sign of respect for someone deceased or as an opportunity for prayer. So, silence means different things, and finding a true complete silence is next to impossible. Even if you're sitting on a mountain top, complete silence is still elusive with the wind moving past your ears creating sound. Sitting deep within a forest or jungle, there is still the sound of nature all around. Put your fingers in your ears and you will hear something even if it’s just the blood rushing through the body.
In fact, for many, silence can become emotionally and even physically painful. Pumped-in music can be heard at most shopping centers, grocery stores, and malls today. Many public spaces now have this “piped in” music even outside. Why? Why are we being conditioned to be uncomfortable with the sounds of just nature or silence?
Complete silence may be unattainable yet the benefits that can be gained by experiencing periods of deep quiet, approaching elusive silence, can be transformative. Getting rest from all that surrounds us as we become more aware of just how little silence we experience, the innate desire for periods of quiet grows.
I witnessed people struggling with silence through a Zen Buddhist practice called “Sesshin”. Sesshin is seven days out of each month where complete silence is maintained with absolutely no speaking or eye contact with fellow participants. The monastery miraculously continues to function including meal preparation, housekeeping, and long hours of meditation. A Sesshin is something that one worked up to over some time being involved with the monastery and still, some people struggled. I am not saying that a week of silence is something I would advocate for the uninitiated, but its effects were profound. The struggles often included body pain and emotional releases. When silence is maintained, introspection is gained, and transformation can be enhanced. For the purpose of improving bioregulatory adaptation, I would suggest forty-eight to seventy hours of relative silence and abstention from speaking. It is revealing to see what comes up for us when we limit external entertainment and noise from the outside while combining silence from within through not speaking.
The benefits of silence may vary from person to person with some similarities that show up for those who engage in periods of silence. Introspection is the first effect that silence stimulates, and it does not take long to do it. Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of silence, a deeper level of personal contact will begin to rise. This introspection is also stimulated in our abstention from speaking. Silence can be experienced even with our ears hearing a sound. By not speaking for a period one can feel the effects of a silence that builds from within.
Stepping away from the noise of the world for a few days with silence as a companion can reduce stress and anxiety. It will allow the mind to have longer gaps between thoughts and periods of meditativeness will become easier. The relationship with oneself will grow and a sense of inner peace can become deeper. If we find that we don’t like this level of being with ourselves then we have to admit we are in bad company and if that’s the case, we need to work on becoming the person we like to be with.
Depending on one’s circumstances and surroundings creating silence can be easy or next to impossible. Finding time to create a space where silence or at least a level of deep quiet can be maintained can be as easy as going to a spa and sitting in a sauna. The beach offers a level of silence depending on the location. Sitting in a park or along a riverbank can also offer a level of silence. You will be hearing sounds of nature within periods of silence. Even spending time in the library reading will supply us with periods of silence. The beauty of reading is that it is best done in silence. Another way of incorporating silence is driving without the radio on. Being at home without the background noise of T.V. Avoiding entertainment lessens the amount of noise our body and mind need to process.
Spending moments of silence outside or inside with others or by yourself will be revealing in many ways and can be emotionally and mentally healing and informative. Resting the nervous system from all the excess stimulation will help in reestablishing good bioregulation and can stimulate a parasympathetic response that is conducive to healing.
We have all heard that “silence is golden”. It is also healing, and revealing.
A long time ago I was told to use my mouth and my ears in the same proportion in which I have them: one mouth, and two ears. We should listen twice as much as we speak because we only learn when we listen, and we can only speak what we already know. Silence has its value and is more important today in giving us a break from the excess noise we are exposed to. Silence and its introspection help the detoxification of the nervous system from excess noise that contributes to the modern dis-easy picture.
Take a day or two and spend some time in silence. Have a day or two a month where you refrain from speaking for the day and see how it makes you feel. Let silence be a catalyst for deeper self-connection and a break from the noise. Enjoy the silence.