Inside Yoga 287 (9/12/2019)
Our modern world is so filled with sounds that we do not know a world with silence: think about how we live and ask yourself how much silence do you experience in a typical day?
An average day might start with the sound of an alarm or radio playing to wake us up, followed by chatter (possibly telling each other to hurry up in the bathroom etc) between family members as the day gets going (and for those who live alone, skip to next part); then once in the kitchen the radio provides either vocal or musical background to breakfast; then we leave home heading for work, school or wherever we need to go, if by car the radio or music goes on straight away, and/or a chorus of conversation between the car’s occupants, or if walking or on public transport we plug ourselves into our headphones connected to music, podcasts etc; and then once we reach our destination we work, study or play, and in many cases this will have a musical background, or chatter.
Though some offices are so quiet, with everyone working away, if you work in such an environment have you noticed how, leaving aside any concerns work might have, there is feeling of calmness which descends upon yourself as you arrive in the quiet environment of your office. One could argue that offices are our modern equivalent of temples and churches where the stillness and quietness is so welcome to those who enter regardless of belief.
Then when lunch comes we find ourselves in a noisy café or canteen filled with chatter, or we go to the park listening to our headphones, or perhaps shops filled with their usual blend of music (some shops seem to think they have to sound like a night club), chatter, and general noise.
Once the day of work or whatever we have done, is over, we head home listening to the car radio or headphones, and when home, we slump down on the sofa – there is a moment of calm and tranquillity when we feel safe and home, quiet and free of everything… but then we switch on the radio or TV to fill the short-lived peace and quiet which passed unnoticed and under-appreciated.
We cook our dinner listening to the radio news or music, or chatting away to those we live with, and then after eating, we fill our evening entertainment of TV, video games or something else invariably involving a screen. And sound.
Finally, tired and exhausted we go to sleep… and start again the next day.
I do appreciate that not everything above applies to everyone, and some parts are essential, like conversations with family, friends and work colleagues… life does need conversation, but what I want to highlight is how we fill every possible moment of our daily life with sounds and distractions. So much so that noise in our life feels normal, which means that when someone first seeks silence through meditation, they have a mix of feelings including uncomfortable sensations or restlessness and resistance because silence feels strange.
Silence should not feel strange and uncomfortable.
We can alter in small ways how we live to give it a little more silence: look at your day and see where silence can be added. And importantly with silence comes the ability to listen to how we are, and what is really going on around us. We do spend so much of daily life in a bubble of our own making – usually with a soundtrack of our choice.
In my example of an average day there are plenty of opportunities to experience a quieter way of living. When we wake up we could decide not turn the radio on? We could arrange with those we live with not to chat in the morning, agreeing to get ready for the day in silence. On some retreats and programmes I took part on it was agreed to keep silence until lunchtime or another agreed time. If everyone is silent then it is not difficult. For example, try having breakfast in silence.
Once you leave home, travel without the addition of input from headphones or car radio. Be more aware of everything around you as you travel: if walking or on public transport notice how many people are glued to sounds (from headphones).
For those who run or walk in the morning, go without headphones – I would add there, I often wonder how safe it is running in traffic while distracted by music in the ears, especially in the countryside where roads usually have no pavement?
Some days I catch myself just about to watch TV or go on the computer, and realise that I really need quiet, so I retreat to a room with a book to read. I do listen to the news in most weekday mornings, but Saturday morning doesn’t offer the programmes I like, so I have breakfast in silence, and get the bonus of peace and quiet (note: not always guaranteed as depends on my family!).
One of the reasons for writing about the importance of silence is that I believe we are creatures of habit who do not notice what we are doing; and when it comes to noise, sounds and distractions in our life we do not make to connection between our stress and exhaustion and the way we keep our lives filled with a soundtrack, noisy at times, but certainly relentless. We can do something about it.
Silence is not only golden but it is healing for our mind and body.
Silence is a recurring theme in all things yoga, meditation and practice: previous blogs include:
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