In a world that seems to get noisier every year, more and more of us are looking for a greater experience of silence in our lives. Although prayer and meditation have always been seen as traditionally effective methods of deepening silence, there are other ways to find it in the midst of a busy daily routine. Most of them are available to each of us if we know where to look for them.
Seeking Out Silence
Traditional forms of physical exercise, particularly yoga and martial arts (Tai Chi, etc.) in addition to stretching and strengthening the body, have the added effect of bringing the body and mind into a state of balance and stillness which can open us up to an inner experience of silence . Introductory classes can be easily found these days in local fitness and community centers.
Various forms of music have been found to create more brain coherence, which in turn allows the mind to drop into its deepest, most silent state. These might include traditional forms of chant, choral, devotional or classical music. Experiencing that music performed live seems to have an even stronger effect.
Reading books that are uplifting or in which you find knowledge or insight can help the mind settle. While one part of the mind is engaged, another is freed to rest or quietly observe. Likewise writing, especially in a journal or to someone you feel connected with, can empty our mind of thoughts and feelings, allowing it to experience more of its deeper more silent nature.
Wearing earplugs when socially appropriate or listening to white noise or nature sounds through headphones may allow a level of interior silence to rise within us, especially in noisy work or public environments.
“I only went for a walk and finally concluded to say out ’til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John Muir
Walking in nature helps many people to tune into a deeper level of silence. In the words of of the naturalist John Muir, “I only went for a walk and finally concluded to stay out ’til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” Even for those of us who live in an urban area, a few minutes walking in a park or on a walking path can ground us and return us to that deeper experience; running or jogging also works in this way for some people.
See if you can find places where others have sought silence and go there to sit, even for a few moments. Look for public gardens, parks, churches, temples or even libraries if they have quiet reading areas. I recently found a great deal of silence in the middle of an art museum. And finally…
Create your own silent space: find a few minutes or hours each week when you can turn off your cell phone and the TV, shut your door and see what it feels like not to talk or listen to outside sounds for an extended period. Start modestly with maybe 30 or 60 minutes of silence on a weekend day, then see if you can schedule it to be a regular part of your weekly routine, and gradually build up the time you’re able to devote to the practice.
Why do we have to work at developing an experience of silence? In earlier days, silence was a much greater part of everyone’s daily experience. Before electricity, telephones and televisions, many people’s home hours were filled with silence and in agrarian societies daily work was often solitary and and at least intermittently silent. It is only in the past 100 years that the noise level of our common experience has begun to rise dramatically. To balance out all the noise and activity in today’s environment we may have to cultivate some silence in order to lower stress levels and give ourselves a chance to rest and recharge.
Scientists have discovered that brain wave activity radically changes in silence. The parts of the brain that govern creativity and inspiration become enlivened, and the areas of our nervous system that get overstimulated by stress and outside stimuli have a chance to rest, de-stress, and recharge. Silence isn’t just an outer experience. There is actually a deep level of our own consciousness which is always silent. Nurturing that level of our inner life and restoring a balance between silence and activity in our consciousness can deliver great rewards on the level of body, mind and spirit.