Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy – Erling Kagge
In an attempt to reboot, my husband and I packed up our fur family and spent a week at the beach over the Christmas holiday. We got up each morning and trekked the shoreline immersing ourselves in the feel of the fresh salt air, the crash of the ocean waves and the caw of the seagulls flying overhead. We walked miles and miles each day — often in companionable silence with our cell phones off and tucked away in back pockets. Every now and then we would stop, plop down on the cool, damp sand and just be in silence.
Noise does not simply refer to sound, it includes the busyness of both internal and external environments. The constant need to “do” something and the aversion to boredom prevent the opportunity to relax the body and the mind. While technology has certainly contributed to the “skim, scan, scroll” processing of our world, it has also generated the technostress afforded by constant availability. Therefore, it is important to recognize the value of cultivating a practice of silence.
The Benefits of Silence
According to a study published in the March 2015 issue of the journal Brain Structure and Function, preliminary research on mice indicates that as little as two hours of silence may promote brain cell growth by strengthening the hippocampus and improving memory. Additionally, some research has found that cultivating just moments of silence can lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve relaxation and sleep even better than listening to soothing music.
Ways to Cultivate Silence
- Early morning moments: Invite intentional silence into your morning. Curl up in a blanket and sit in the dark allowing your eyes to focus slowly. Take a few moments to gaze at the sunrise, or inhale the fresh morning air. Ease into your day grounded and calm.
- Thankful mealtimes: Use the first few seconds prior to eating to close your eyes, take a deep breath and take a moment to appreciate your meal. Attending to your meal in this manner will not only provide you with a nice transition from your busy morning but welcome a more pleasant dining experience.
- Breathe: Throughout our busy days, we often forget about breath. We become complacent that the next breath will come without effort or thought. Take a moment to turn your attention to your breath. Are you taking full, deep cleansing breaths? Or do you inhale wisps of air? Take time to breathe.
- Meeting preludes: Begin your meetings at work with a five- minute practice of silence. This will allow the transition from work to the meeting agenda at hand. You and your co-workers will begin the meeting focused and ready to tackle the work.
- Media fast: Intentionally unplug for thirty minutes, an hour, a day. No cheating! No devices. A colleague of mine has initiated Unplugged Sundays, where she and her family members put away devices and spend time interacting as a family.
- Brisk walk in nature: Nature provides endless opportunities to soothe and refresh. Take a 15-minute walk around the block or on a nearby trail. When I work from home, I schedule a couple brief walks with my dogs to clear the clutter from my brain.
- Bedtime brain purge: Prior to bedtime, take a moment to purge all of the worries of the day. Lists of things left undone. Ruminations of concerns. Simply let them go long enough to prepare for slumber. You can use a journal to quickly write down your thoughts or just say them all out loud — quickly.
- Gratitude: I love to end my day with a gratitude list. I crawl into my comfy bed and immediately acknowledge the comforts of my home, my bed, my full tummy and the loving companions (my dogs and hubby) who share my life.
- Meditation practice: Consider beginning a meditation practice. A 20 minute practice morning, midday, or evening can promote calm focus to the day.
- Silent retreat: If you find that you crave longer jaunts with silence, consider participating in a silent retreat. Many retreat houses offer formal or informal retreats. Additionally, you may choose from group or individual silent retreats. I regularly schedule overnight escapes to the beach by myself to just reboot. I return ready to take on life’s challenges.
Modern-day living is accompanied by a cacophony of external noise and internal concerns. Our bodies and minds cannot sustain the ongoing level of stimulation without disease or disorder. Apparently, silence is golden, and it is imperative to make time for silence in our noisy lives. As counselors, we are trained to listen and sometimes we just need to unplug, retreat and refresh.
Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. She is director and assistant professor for Alliant International University California School of Professional Psychology’s online MA in Clinical Counseling. Her research interests include examining sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer; nature-informed therapy; and geek therapy. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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