In our multi sensory world full of noise and distraction it can be incredibly difficult to get a little peace and quiet. I’ve wondered if silence is perceived as being a bit old fashioned? We are constantly surrounded by music, tv, news, talkback and social media and can have email and text conversations 24/7. Silences in conversation are often met with an awkward shuffle and quickly filled with meaningless small talk.
Now don’t get me wrong I love cranking up my stereo or plugging into my ipod and signing loudly and out of tune in the car! Yes I like to keep an eye on twitter and Facebook but these days we are constantly surrounded by noise. Every now and then I like some quiet, some silence, some time to tune into what’s going on around me and within me. There’s also the constant chatter in our heads and that can be as noisy as the actual sound we have around us! I think we’ve got used to filling the space that silence creates with real and mental noise. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with silence. Of course silence can mean different things to different people. It can be a space for quiet reflection or a state fraught with discomfort. Silence is often something we are more comfortable sharing only with those we are closest to. Perhaps silence means that something must be wrong or there’s something lacking. Maybe we feel we’re not connected to the latest views, opinions and happenings. But are we becoming less connected to ourselves with all the distraction around us?
I was recently reminded of how valuable silence can be when attending a study day. When someone else was speaking we were encouraged to stop and listen to them, really listen. To remain silent both physically and mentally i.e by not butting in or talking over them or by even starting to formulate a response to them in our heads before they had finished speaking. It provided the participants with a respectful and enjoyable environment in which to spend time bouncing around ideas and it subtly acknowledged that everyone’s opinion was equal and valid.
While contemplating the value and place of silence in our society I was intrigued to discover a newly released documentary film “In Pursuit of Silence”. It’s a meditative film about our relationship with noise, promoted with a two-minute trailer in which not a word is uttered! While delving a little deeper, quietly of course, I found there is a growing business in providing people with quiet experiences. Most surprising was that these experiences are often shared with relative strangers.
A year ago, regular silent reading parties started in Dundee. Readers bring their books and meet in a bar, where they read together in silence for an hour or two. Then they put the books away to chat and have a drink. It was an idea that kicked off in Seattle and has since spread to New York, London and Edinburgh. Devised as a literary hangout for those who don’t like spoken-word nights or discussion groups, the premise was simple: show up, shut up and read. “When the reading starts, everything goes quiet,” says the founder. “It offers an opportunity for escapism; everyone is so busy with work and with technology being ever present. An event like this gives people the opportunity to escape these things for a while.”
However if that’s not your thing and you’re wanting to meet a partner maybe one of the silent speed dating evenings might be more to your liking. Attendees are paired off for a limited window of time, communicating only with gestures, before engaging in 60 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact. After the event you are given the contact details of interested parties and if you go on a second date, you can maintain the established embargo on chit-chat if you choose.
Also growing in popularity are silent dinner parties. Similar rules apply, turn up, eat, no using voice, writing or technology.
More mainstream are silent retreats. Once the standard offering of religious orders silent health retreats and spas are springing up all over the world.
The benefits of creating some quiet are numerous and are very similar to the benefits of mindfulness. Intentionally embracing silence, being aware of what’s around us and sitting with our thoughts helps us to feel less stressed, anxious and depressed. We can lower the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, lower our blood pressure and increase our concentration and ability to learn. We become calmer and listen more, enabling us to be better at resolving conflict and building healthier relationships. By embracing silence we can overcome the need for constant distractions that can keep us from understanding ourselves and others more deeply.
While heading off on a retreat to take time out to gain some peace and quiet may seem inviting, it’s not very practical for many of us! So how can we find some time to embrace silence and some of its benefits, here are some ideas
– take a break from technology for a day. Turn off your phone and other gadgets, anything that creates a noise.
– get up 15 mins earlier and go for a walk, sit and be mindful, read a book, write a journal.
– Block out times in your day when you don’t check your phone or surf the internet.
– if there’s a gap in conversation, sit with it just a little longer than you’re comfortable.
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence” – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
Jan Aitken Life Coach