816th Week: Return to Silence

Sitting in my living room on a Sunday morning, I’m filled with the gift of silence. No city noises disturb the quiet this morning and that is a great gift. It has gotten me to thinking about the brain research I’ve mentioned before that reflects the benefits of silence in fundamental and literal ways. 

One of the benefits of having quiet time, time spent in silence, is that we gain access to our default mode network. This is the aspect of brain activity where we allow our minds to wander, to think deeply, to listen to our internal experience. All it requires is for us to move away from distractions and give ourselves quiet time to simply be present to our awareness.

Another reason to seek out times of silence is that research has shown that two hours of silence daily can lead “…to the development of new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion.” In addition to this, we know that noise pollution raises blood pressure and creates stress for both body and mind. According to researchers,  “Just as too much noise can cause stress and tension, research has found that silence has the opposite effect, releasing tension in the brain and body.” These findings were reported in the Huffington Post by Carolyn Gregoire and shared by Daily Good a while back.

For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to explore your relationship to silence, to finding quiet time, time to daydream, to allow your mind to just be. For me, this adds an additional piece to this practice and that is to consciously not go with self-talk that is in any way stressful, self-critical, or oriented to fearful or angry thoughts. This is a time for gentle, quiet, stress-free drifting with your thoughts, your creativity and, perhaps, not having any thoughts at all—just enjoying the quiet time.

Most of us have a hard time finding two hours for silence, although I have colleagues who have lost work due to the pandemic who are finding hours each day to be in silence. I’ve listened to their reports of the benefits that have come with this unexpected time for just being and so for those who can, take a meaningful amount of time in the silence. For those of us who are on the busier side, allow whatever time is available within a busy schedule.

One of the ways I have dropped into silence over the years has been to follow the out-breath down into my body, all the way to the bottom of the breath. Then, I notice the gap between breaths—and there is always a gap, whether brief or long. Within that gap is an ever-present stillness that invites a deep quiet and internal silence. 

Another way I’ve used to drop into silence is to again use the out-breath to pour my awareness all the way down into a beautiful bowl that I imagine rests on my pelvic floor. By pouring my awareness into the bowl, I find I can settle deeply into the stability and quiet I find there, resting on my pelvic floor.

Yet another way to find the silence, if it doesn’t spontaneously arise, is to recall a time you may have been in a forest, a temple, or some other place where there was a profound and tangible silence. By placing yourself there in your imagination, you may be able to recapture or reconnect with the direct experience of silence and spend a little time there.

Whatever works best for you, I invite you to touch into silence at least once a day in whatever way is possible. When you do, notice not only how this affects your state of mind, but also tune into your body and notice the places where your body spontaneously softens and relaxes when you spend time in pockets of silence.

As with all these practices, there’s no right way to do this one. Instead, as you explore it, find what works best for you. And, please remember to bring along curiosity as our constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through.

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