Being quiet is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. And it will heal you.
When a moment of quiet falls on you do you quickly rush to fill it? Or is it a welcome guest?
Right now you are the most silent that you will be all day. Researchers tell us that we are losing out when we push silence to the fringes of our lives. Just like sleep restores the body, silence restores the mind, the emotions and the soul.
Our addiction to sound
Sound is like alcohol. Just like alcohol, at acceptable levels sound can be pleasant and fun. But with alcohol and with noise, there is a level of toxicity. Alcohol toxicity can lead to hangover, coma and even death. Similarly, noise toxicity can destroy your peace and it can be hazardous to your health. Noise can be so destructive that we have laws in place to protect us from harmful levels of noise… just as we have laws to protect us from harmful uses of alcohol (drunk driving laws, not serving liquor to minors). Similar to alcohol, perpetual noise can become a soothing distraction. To some degree, noise can become a type of addiction.
- WELL BEING: Hearing and a reasonable level of quiet is essential for health and well-being. Quieter environments are correlated with greater well-being, improved health, reduced use of psychoactive drugs and fewer admissions to mental health facilities.
- PERFORMANCE: Sound levels can impact your workplace, educational and personal performance, concentration, energy levels, sense of patience and professionalism, and overall self-confidence.
- A SOUND HANGOVER: Sustained noise stays with you in a way that is similar to a hangover, taking as long as 24 hours to restore normal hearing and functioning levels.
- HEALTH IMPACTS: Prolonged and chronic exposure to noise can increase your likelihood of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS: A lack of peace contributes to an increase in overall anxiety and stress. It may precipitate emotional instability, irritability and mood shifts.
- A SOURCE OF AUDITORY STRESS: Sound and noise are powerful forms of communication. Just as behavior can be violent, so is our sound or volume levels. Extreme levels of sound can be used as a form of torture and are used by some regimes to force submission. High levels of sound, shouting and screaming are a too-often ignored aspect of family violence.
For many people, we use substances and addictive behaviors to numb or silence the inner dialogue that we have inside our heads. Any effective and lasting recovery program should include re-training ourselves to allow and even welcome silence back into our lives.
It might sound simple, but if you want lasting change, listen to yourself. We say it so often that it means very little, but we need to hear ourselves. In recovery, listening to ourselves is the main agent of lasting change. Consider the major models of recovery and how EVERY approach includes being quiet enough to listen to ourselves and the people in our lives:
- AA: We came to our senses and had an awakening
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Identify your thoughts and challenge them
- Motivational Interviewing: Hear your own motivation, in your own words
- Psychodynamic Therapy: Recognizing your defense mechanisms and learning to negotiate with your own drives and desires.
- Humanistic Theory: Learning to integrate, to change your inner dialogue to be a place of genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard towards ourselves
- Family Therapy: Hear what you are saying (and doing) to your family and listen to what they are saying (and doing) to you.
- Spirituality: Learning to love other people means that you learn to first love yourself, because how you treat other people is an extension of how you treat others
Hearing ourselves is a radical step that can change our minds. Addiction, noise, and compulsive behaviors are behavioral strategies that serve to occupy (aka: distract) our minds. Training ourselves to be comfortable with our own voice and with the stories in our heads can create an inner environment for change.
Silence and healing
Ironically, one of the most challenging aspect to communication is not speaking, but hearing. Welcoming reflective silence in our relationships demonstrates respect for your conversation, for the other person and for yourself. Even in counseling training, silence is a difficult area to master but it has many therapeutic and healing benefits:
- Silence creates space for who you are right now, for your most troubling emotions and experience. Silence begs a question: “What is important to you, right now?”
- Silence makes you, and your therapist, aware of your anxiety. Too much silence can make your anxiety feel overwhelming and too little can numb you to your voice and your needs.
- Silence can communicate volumes: this is your space to talk, you can assert yourself, you can handle this moment, you can be present with your own suffering and you will survive.
- However, silence can communicate disinterest, disrespect and even disregard: As when a couple uses the silent treatment towards each other, or when a suffering person in need of support is given nothing except the violence of silence.
- To find out more about the technical and clinical benefits of silence, refer to the following links: an article in Science Direct on Silence as Communication , blog by Gordon Shippey on Silence in Session, Psychology Today on the Effective Use of Silence, and an article by James G. Fennessy on the careful use of silence by therapists.
Getting used to silence
Christopher Edgar states that our culture is hostile to silence. In a brief article on “How Getting Used to Silence Can Help Your Productivity,” he describes how to phase out self-distractions by reducing the background noise in our work and personal lives.
Be warned: being quiet is radical. It is a challenge to welcome silence into your day. I invite you over the next four weeks, to invite silence back into your life. Pick one day, each week and:
- Week one: Leave your iPod at home.
- Week two: Go for a walk alone and be quiet.
- Week three: Leave the car radio off and drive in silence.
- Week four: Turn off the TV and “veg out” in silence. This is probably the most difficult, but most important practice.
- Week five: Take 15 minutes and just be silent, breathe and listen. I suggest that you have a notebook in the event that ideas pop into your head.
I would love to hear you. Yes, I just want to stop and listen to you. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Chris Greevebiester