Music, conversation, TV, traffic noise, radio. All those sounds throughout the day don’t stop to reach our ears.
Our environment is a gigantic magnet for attention. How many minutes in a day do we enjoy ourselves in silence?
Now, imagine yourself at home, doing nothing but listening to silence for a few minutes. How would it make you feel? Relaxed? Bored? Both answers are interesting because that’s how much silence has to offer to us.
Sticking to a few minutes of silence every day can bring drastic changes to your brain. Scientific researches demonstrated physiological improvements.
Silence appears to be the most effective environment for brain growth. Experiments on mices compared 3 different sound environments : classical music, daily activity noises, and silence.
It showed silence was the most effective for neurogenesis in the hippocampus area. The hippocampus is a region of the brain tied to memory and spatial navigation.
However, the study couldn’t identify if the newly generated neurons were directly involved in tangible benefits. The least we can say is : those neurons are functional and literally grow the brain.
Blood Pressure Decrease
Music in movies can affect how tense we can get. Who has ever felt heart rate and blood pressure increase when immersed into a horror movie.
An experiment published in Heart journal in Sept. 2005 illustrates this concept. Sound stimuli can affect the body’s tension. The latter was monitored via breath rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.
That experiment shows that moments of silence inserted in a stressful environment (high tempo music) had a strong relaxing effect.
In a nutshell, outside noises have direct link with cognitive development and tension. On a day to day basis, coping with a noisy environment can be harmful not only to health but also reduce our capacity to learn.
Nowadays, I observe so many people wearing earphones. Of course there is nothing wrong with it. But Silence is often regarded as a space of boredom rather than a space of contemplation. All the external world’s distraction shifts our focus outwards, rather than inwards.
That’s where silence is a game changer. It can help calm the mind and deal with what is inside.
By bringing in silence in your daily life, here are some benefits :
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by negative thoughts?
Yet you kept consulting social media, scrolling Instagram or YouTube. There’s a fair amount of chance your brain will continue wandering over your phone’s screen. The brain by default will pick the easy route.
When picking silence over external distraction, you make a strong wish. The wish to focus on solving your negative thoughts rather than escaping them.
Improves Sleep and Fight Insomnia
The regular practice of mindful meditation showed benefits in improving sleep quality.
A study published by JAMA Intern Med. compared 2 groups of participants during 6 weeks. One group followed meditation practices, while the 2nd group followed sleep hygiene courses. Among the two, the meditation group showed the best improvements. This group showed better sleep quality, less daytime fatigue, and reduced insomnia symptoms.
Increases Awareness & Broaden Your View
I had the chance to go on a buddhist retreat in India.
This was a silent retreat. It meant that all the students had to remain quiet for the whole duration. No words, no eye-contact, no allowed gesture to communicate with others. Everyday, we either practised meditation, or spent time contemplating our thoughts.
Meditation for many, is a mysterious and difficult practice. Observing and focusing on your breath in silence is the basic form of it. This simple awareness practice can develop : concentration, emotional stability and awareness.
Every moment only exists through the present moment. Realising that, can lead to a different perception of reality. You might feel grateful as you understand that every second is unique.
Helps in Discovering Your Purpose
Everyday our attention jumps from one distraction to another. But we never decide and commit listening to our stream of thoughts.
“Your life becomes structured entirely by your favorite means of sidestepping the suffering you rarely allow yourself to feel. And when you do touch the surface of your suffering, perhaps in the form of boredom, you quickly pick up a magazine or the remote control of the TV.” David Deida
Sit in silence. Listen to your thoughts. Strip away from your life, anything that dulls your vision. That’s how you will be able to perceive your inner calling.
You will make a meaning out of your thoughts, memories, experiences and emotions.
And you will engage in a deep creative process to understand what to undertake in life and what meaning to give to it.
“Spend time every day in solitude, with no distractions. Sit, for ten minutes. Stay with your suffering, until you fall through it and intuit the groundless source of your life.” David Deida
How to Integrate Silence in Your Daily Life?
I know it can be quite a challenge to find time, energy or motivation to cut out from the World’s turmoil. But It is not as difficult as you imagine. Here are some suggestions :
Stay in Bed For 5 Minutes
Stay in bed for 5 minutes after waking up. Don’t rush to your smartphone. Feel your body, your heartbeats, your breath.
You can also express your gratitude for the past days or days to come. If you are a night owl, you can do exactly the same exercise before going to sleep.
Promoting grateful thoughts towards the world will take space away for any angry or fearful thoughts.
Meditation will drive away your attention from toxic thoughts. It will help you concentrate on your objectives, and nurture qualities important to you.
You need to drive away the misconception that meditation is about “not thinking”. It is about witnessing your thoughts and being present to them.
Practicing meditation will help train your brain to focus on a single element (cf. Samatha). Once your focus is sharpened, use it to cultivate and nurture positive qualities like compassion or gratitude. (cf. Vipassana)
Walking mindfully will help you focus on the present moment. It will also connect yourself with your sensations, emotions and thoughts.
On another hand, immersion in nature has some regenerative and stress relieving effects.
Nature has an uplifting mood effect. There is something universal with it.
The sunlight, the fresh air, the motion of the leaves in the breeze, will offer a broader perspective of your situation.
How to Use Silence at Work & School ?
Silence in Meetings at Work
I have attended meetings where this was always the same people who would speak up. Either by fear of judgement, or shyness, other participants wouldn’t dare to share their ideas.
Let’s face it, traditional meetings have limitations:
- Only one person is able to speak. It can be difficult to seize the window of opportunity to speak up.
- Introverted or shy people are more inclined to remain silent than to share their ideas.
- There’s also a limitation in time : when any attende decides to speak up, the topic might not be relevant anymore.
An interesting solution for this issue is silent meetings. One is by letting all meeting members express themselves anonymously on a piece of paper.
All contributions are then collected and sorted out in categories of similar ideas. The meeting leader presents the categories and sorts the order in which to discuss.
In my previous company we used this method to identify issues with our team organization. Results were, everyone would talk approximately the same amount of time. Even shy people who generally barely speak during meetings didn’t hesitate to speak up.
Silence for Broader Learning at School
We already discussed above that silence was benefiting our learning capacity. Using silence in the learning process can go broader.
- Reflect on content. In class, silence allows students to reflect on the content they are absorbing. Focusing on how it applies in today’s context rather than focusing only on the grades.
- Learn at your pace. Silence gives students the opportunity to learn at their own pace. I remember as a kid, some of my classmates were remembering lessons faster than me. I always thought I had a problem with learning. After school, I used my time at home to study at my own pace.
- Build self-control and focus. A regular practice of silence at a young age will help students to build self-control and focus.
Education about the benefits of silence have good reasons to be part of the education system. That’s what Edutopia tries to shed light on. (Edutopia is a website funded by George Lucas and promoting innovative learning strategies.)
If you have ever tried to meditate, you might have experienced that time pass very slowly… Minutes, even seconds feel like an eternity.
Our mind is so used to being entertained that coping with ourselves feels like a punishment.
But keep in mind, the more the practice, the more the benefits.
Creating a silent space at home, quieting your distractions, and practicing meditation can bring so much light to your daily life. So seize any oportunity to embrace silence and listen to your inner peace.
“Listen to silence, it has so much to say.” Rumi