“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” Ram Dass.
The industrial age brought many unintended consequences for us to deal with and one of those was an assault on silence. So, how are we coping with that? Although it’s been around for a long time, ‘noise pollution’ is a relatively recent concept and is welcome because it implies general acceptance that an excess of superfluous noise is harmful to us. It can damage our ears, certainly – if the decibel level is high enough – but mostly it affects us in more subtle ways. I’m sure many of us know instinctively that constant, unwanted noise is bad for our health and wellbeing, but scientific measurement backs this up. As well as the more obvious effects on our quality of sleep and levels of stress, there are studies indicating that it can also impair memory, awareness, clarity, decision-making, cognition, creativity and, at the fundamentally physical level, heart health.
Busy lives entail exposure to a lot of constant background noise of all sorts, so it becomes a norm and we forget to question it. Even if we do, there is no easy way to escape it and some are driven to taking drugs for sleep and depression, thereby tackling the symptoms not the cause. Others take a different tack and listen to soothing music to help them relax, substituting one type of sound for another. Then there are those who are so accustomed to noise that they abhor silence and go out of their way to fill itwith a soundtrack. For all of us, whatever approach we take, there is one that is recommended as a unique antidote to the ill-effects of too much noise – silence.
The power of silence is that it allows us to appreciate just how far we have strayed from the ways of calm contemplation and taken the path towards stress and all its damaging side-effects. Unless we live as hermits in the desert, we won’t escape the human cacophony that most of us endure daily, but we can take steps to build moments of quietness into our routines, moments that put us back in touch with our creative, switched-on qualities. Here are some of the ways we can cultivate the habit of restorative silences.
Take a solo walk in nature: it may not always be silent, but at least the sounds of the natural world won’t jar and there’s an opportunity to contemplate how things were before humans invented machines.
Meditate: it doesn’t have to be long and complicated – no gurus required! Just ten minutes of introspection (with earplugs if necessary).
Pause: everyone can find a few moments to stop, close their eyes, breathe deeply and relax the body. It keeps stress at bay and can be done many times per day.
Linger in bed: wake slowly, appreciating the comfort, while deliberately setting the mood for the day to come.
Digital detox: we all know this one but how many of us do it? If it sounds impossible, it’s best attempted for an hour or two until weaned off the need to be constantly online.
Practise yoga: it’s known to induce calm by releasing ‘happy’ hormones. And it allows the mind to focus by concentrating on the various poses.
Depending on our life circumstances, we may not be able to escape noise completely, but embracing the power of silence is still possible: it’s about getting away from distracting noises with a combination of mental and physical distancing, as outlined in the tips above. When we build silent interludes into our lives, we can get a true perspective on the harms we suffer from the noise around us and retreat whenever we need to those silent spaces we have created.
By Rachel Ward Lilley. Rachel is a business and educational psychologist. She has worked for many years advising SMEs and her current work relates to issues of resilience, communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past 12 years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. Find out more here.
Image by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash