So, about quiet.
Last week I wrote about noise and its harmful effects — most notably that noise can stress us out, and sustained stress isn’t good for us. Noise also can be a dangerous or eroding distraction sometimes. Some noise can, even, cause hearing loss.
It stands to reason, then, that if noise can be bad for us, silence — or, at least, periods of quiet time — might be good for us? I know: You science people wonder about my use of over-simple reason sometimes. I do, too, so I usually check it with research.
Here’s something I found when I went to a favorite magazine, “Scientific American,” for advice about health and quiet:
• Our brains really do need “down time.” They’re so full — and being filled — most times that we have to, consciously, look for ways to clear out this “cerebral congestion.”
• Being purposefully quiet is one way to clear our heads.
• And, as I suspected, this quiet-time decongestion is good for us: “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.” (Scientific American, Oct. 15, 2013)
That sounds nice. I think I’d like to be productive and creative, to achieve my highest level of performance. Guess that means I’ll have to shut up sometimes.
Funny, but many of us do not know how to be silent. Moreover, many of us do not want to be silent.
I grew up with something always on — the television, the radio. Constant noise is our societal norm. Ever notice how difficult it is to find a restaurant without video wallpaper or, even, an elevator without its tell-tale music? Something is always ON.
So that’s the don’t-know-how-to aspect of silence. Being without noise would be novel for most of us. If we don’t know how to navigate the grocery store without its satellite songs playing overhead, how could we stand silence anywhere?
But then there’s the don’t want to. Have you noticed what happens when it’s quiet? Shhhh for 30 seconds and find out. Yep, it’s not quiet, is it? You can hear your own thoughts. I once heard a funny and poignant man say if he wanted group therapy, he only need go for a drive. All that chatter, right? Your own thoughts?
I used to be the kind of person whose own thoughts frightened or annoyed or saddened me. Quiet meant, for me, ruminating all my woes. That was no fun. Presently, my woes are largely healed up, but when I am quiet, I start to regurgitate a never-ending to-do list. No, I mean it; that list never ends. Yuck. It’s much easier to turn the radio on and fill the quiet.
Alas, I know silence — or as close as you can come to it — is a good idea, so I’ve found a few ways for a don’t-know-how or don’t-want-to person to try it.
• Just do it. Be quiet, sit in silence. Try 5 minutes if that’s all you can manage. Try it in the morning over coffee if that’s your thing or, maybe, on a walk sans music. Don’t try to do anything other than be quiet. Once you’ve managed five minutes, go for 10.
• Pick a setting and be quiet with the purpose of hearing what sounds there are to hear. For example, you might take 10 minutes on a park bench. No talking, no music, none of that, but listen purposefully for what’s around you. This is a fascinating exercise. Depending on where you are, you might be amazed. Do this enough and you grow to appreciate the symphony your surroundings provide — say, the frog on bass, the chickadee on soprano if you’re outside or the rhythmic, delicate ticks and sloshes you might hear in your home.
• When around others, rest in awkward silence rather than break it. Are you one of those people who always fills the awkward silence? I can be one of those people for sure. It was mostly in childbirth work I learned I didn’t always have to top off the quiet with some wise or witty comment. It is therapeutic, I’ve learned, to let things be. In conversations — especially if you’re slightly socially challenged like some of us — it can be torturous to stay quiet. Do it anyway. You might be surprised what happens. For one, someone else might have something pressing to say. Or you might discover the secret beauty of saying nothing.
• Once you’re getting better at the quiet thing, try going for longer periods of time without saying much. You can read books and blogs written by people who have gone on “meditation vacations” and have spoken, essentially, not at all for great lengths of time. Their minds are blown — in a good way — and they come away recharged to focus on living rather than being noisy.
Note that “quiet time” often implies meditation or prayer of some kind. I Googled several phrases, but “how to have a quiet time” drew decidedly religious results. If you don’t already, you certainly can progress to prayer and meditation. I won’t try to tell you how to do that.
I’m off now for my own quiet time as the sun comes up. Then I’ll start talking.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”