Writer and mindfulness expert Amber Hatch explains how embracing silence can be an antidote to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
This article first appeared in Watkins Mind Body Spirit, issue 52.
Most of us would like a bit more peace and quiet sometimes – yet how often do we get it?
We live in an age of information and communication, which leads to an abundance of both aural and visual ‘noise’. We are so habituated to receiving noise and stimulation that we may feel lonely or bored when there is a lack of it. That’s why we turn on the radio when we are driving, exercising or doing DIY, or check our social media feed while we are in a queue at a supermarket. The problem is that because we reach out for stimulation so often, we have ended up in a situation where we can’t seem to take a break from it.
We are inundated by messages and data from all sides. In order to get heard, messages need to shout louder and flash more brightly, both literally and metaphorically. Companies, charities, institutions and others pump more and more money into their advertising in order to get their messages across. Social media, email and our phones flood us with alerts, texts, statuses and other data from friends, family, colleagues and, of course, businesses. Society expects us to keep up with the news, our emails, social media, fashion and opinion. If we are not careful, the constant input can overwhelm us.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly sifting through this information overload, sorting the sounds and alerts into the correct categories, and evaluating and prioritising them. The mental energy required to do all this can take a toll; it is a constant drain on our resources, undermining our ability to stay on top of everything. We are like the toddler at an ice-cream counter who cannot choose between the flavours, and is eventually so overwhelmed by the vast choice that he bursts into tears.
So what can we do about it? We need to take action – and urgently. Yet we intuitively know that more of things – more stuff or more stimulation – is not going to lead to greater happiness. Instead we need to change our approach. We need a radical solution. That solution is silence.
I don’t simply mean the absence of sound. That would be impossible. Instead I mean that we need to capture something of the essence of silence. A special place – unlike any other – which offers us the potential to be in the moment – and to be ourselves. The notion of silence can redress the balance of this crazy, chaotic world that we live in. It can give us the space we need to allow our bodies and minds to relax, so that we can become the calm and happy individuals we want to be.
SILENCE IS A STRATEGY FOR LIVING
So how can we get more of it? The Art of Silence explains how we can use three very powerful ways to harness the power of silence and bring more of it into our lives. We can embrace silence through quieting our environment, through cultivating peaceful relationships, and by working with the mind to nurture an inner peace.
The Art of Silence offers us practical ways to make changes to the world around us. We can do this by spending time in quieter places, and by engaging in activities that are conducive to calm. We can think of this as setting the conditions for silence. We can also consider the way in which we interact with those around us, as this has a huge impact on the quality of our lives. We can bring peace into our conversations and our way of being with others. This is a way for us to ‘act out’ our silence. Finally, by working with the mind, we can learn how to cultivate a sense of inner silence. We can then draw from this, whatever the circumstances of the moment.
Ultimately we find that silence is right here, within our grasp, should we choose to reach out for it. Silence is not a place that we must go to or a time that never comes around. It is an intention that we can make at any moment.
Because silence is so different from everything else, instilling more of it in our lives can bring about a profound change. Silence represents absence. It is so tantalising for us partly because of its apparent rejection of everything that our modern consumerist world stands for. Silence is about refraining. Abstaining. Saying no. Waiting, watching and listening. These are bold ideas in the modern world, which usually celebrates doing, choosing, convenience and immediacy.
Embracing silence involves stripping away the distractions and avoiding the stimulation. There is no longer anything to hide behind or immerse ourselves in. When we do this, what we are left with is ourselves. We are not always comfortable with that. Many people find silences intimidating and feel compelled to fill them – whether by themselves, with another person or in a full stadium.
There is something to be said for being curious about that uneasiness. It is as if we have a resistance to finding out who we really are. Perhaps we are scared of what we might find. Many of us are frightened of being bored – we imagine that we will find boredom intolerable, and without even thinking about it, can find ourselves going to extremes to fill any small moment that threatens to leave us unoccupied. Practising silence is a way of learning how to be more comfortable with ourselves.
The more we know and understand about ourselves, the better able we are to work with ourselves and to lead productive, positive lives. If we are not always jumping to fill the gaps we can make decisions, act and even think in a more measured way.
Silence offers us an opportunity unlike any other: it provides us with the space to be in the moment, to connect with the world we live in, and to allow the essence of our own nature to rise to the surface.
Meet the author: Amber Hatch is a writer, teacher and mindfulness expert. She has been practising daily Buddhist meditation for eight years and helps organise family retreats at the Samatha centre in Wales. She also helped establish a mindfulness support group for parents in Oxford. Amber has three children of her own and has written two parenting books, including Mindfulness for Parents (Watkins 2017). She has also produced two mindful colouring books in collaboration with her illustrator husband, Alex Ogg.