“Music,” observed the 19th-century composer Claude Debussy,” is the silence between the notes.” We’re more than a century removed from Clair de Lune, and we are still addicted to music… but silence? Not so much. Our loss. Because there is a richness to be had from the practice of intermittent silence. Shhhh in small doses can improve mental, physical, and yes, spiritual well-being. We’re talking 1 to 5-minute breaks.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, 77% of us exhibit physical signs of stress in our everyday lives. And that’s just adults. The more noise a child is exposed to, reports the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the worse they perform at school and the harder they find it to concentrate. Those ubiquitous tablets, cell phones, and video games have even increased the level of hearing impairment which affects a child’s ability to learn and develop.
Comfy as we feel with our devices close at hand, our best work is actually done in silence or following a period of silence, says the American Institute for Stress. The simple act of being quiet can lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, reduce muscle tension, and increase focus and cognition. Interestingly, that focus goes out the window when the sound around you (be it Debussy or Iron Maiden) reaches a level of 80 decibels, which is what you get in a noisy restaurant or from that window air conditioner. It doesn’t take much. And no, noise doesn’t rock creativity, say stress experts. Silence does.
So, daydream away. “Zipping it” actually increases your productivity tenfold. A study published through the National Library of Medicine found that exposure to prolonged silence prompts the brain to produce new cells. Being exposed to a certain amount of silence per day prompts cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.
And it doesn’t have to be long, hard, or complicated. Monks do it, yogis and kindergartners do it, and daydreamers do it. The simple act of savoring silence doesn’t require space or special stuff. Or any set period of time. You can be still anywhere, anytime, for any length of time. Literally.
In other words, no need to wait for the right Buddhist retreat or meditation series to get your taste of inner peace. In the time it takes to light a candle and reflect on the flame, you can (wherever you are in daily life) hang that ”Closed” sign on your busy self and take a minute or three that will pay you back richly.
Turning off and tuning in wherever you are — without candles, mantras, for as brief as 60 seconds, can have profound effects on your equilibrium, mood, self-esteem. It’s like an insta-nap in the middle of daily life that you can customize to fit into your busy high-decibel life.
Here are a few tips on how and where to drop out (and drop in to your true self) wherever you are.
- Riding the subway, train, bus? Take off the headphones, put away the phone. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Bathe in the silence. Let it support you in the next few nowhere-to-go nothing-to-do minutes.
- Standing in line at the grocery checkout, or airport boarding line? Close your eyes and metaphorically close your ears. Do nothing for a minute or two. Be neither here nor there. Just be in the in-between.
- Waiting in the doctor’s office, vet’s office, DMV? Clasp or cushion your hands in your lap and with the act of closing your eyes look deep inside and tap into your eternal self. The “you” that (as yoga reminds us) has no beginning, no end. Find a minute or two of deep quiet in the midst of noise and distraction,
- Seated and stalled in traffic as a driver or the driven (ugh)? You could listen to an audiobook or turn the news on, but quiet will do a better job of nourishing your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and calming your spirit. Be where you are but bring your attention to your third eye (the space meditators locate between the eyebrows) and sink into silence for a minute or two.
- Agitated and fatigued in a loud crowd at an indoor or outdoor event? Take deep breaths, lengthen the spine, close your eyes and call up the calm person you would choose to be in every moment. Inhale calm, exhale distress.
- Having a solo coffee? Don’t pick up the phone to multitask, don’t compare yourselves to others around you. Sip and be silent, you, the cup and the spoon,
- Taking your daily walk? Do it without stuff. No phone, no watch, no headphones, no podcasts. Listen to your breathing, the naturally arising sounds of nature or the city, the sound of your own footsteps, OR put in earplugs and listen to the enthralling sound of your heartbeat.
- Preparing a meal at the end of a busy day? Put the pots and pans down for a minute. Bring your hands to prayer position at the heart and be still, Savor the silence and the smells.
- Waiting for a phone call? Don’t fidget, don’t scroll through social media. Fold your hands in your lap, focus on a single object in the room. Be still. SHH……