Finding Silence in a Noisy World

Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

Silence is essential. We need silence just as much as we need air,
just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words
and thoughts, there is no space for us.” 

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Sound passes through air, water, and even solid objects, invading our environment and diminishing the silence. We live in a noisy world. As the level of noise increases so does our cultural and environmental acceptance of it. Noise is the background of our lives; in the form of auditory sounds, visual clutter, smells and even the noise of our own thoughts.

snowy bench, snow-covered park, silenceCarving out a quiet place and creating an absence of noise is central to our well-being. It allows us to see, hear and feel what is important and offers space to appreciate it. We need silence to hear ourselves.

Noise reflects today’s pace of life. Thanks to the warp-speed progress of technology the noise level has gone in to overdrive. Aldous Huxley (writing in 1945) said, “The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire — we hold history’s record for all of them.”  He was referring to the radio.

I wonder what he would write today. We are still in the age of noise, but it is so much more that the din of a radio or television. It envelops us and reflects the everyday business of living. Despite the surround-sound in my life, the idea of turning down the volume appeals to me. I have minimal control over noise in my environment but I do have control over my personal space and I am learning how to use it.

Free Your Mind

Our minds are programmed to collect and hold on to clutter.  Making space for silence is a decision that will focus your mind, reduce your stress and re-energize you physically and mentally. Creating pockets of silence throughout the day creates a sense of well-being and order. It’s not easy.

free your mind, lotus flower, silenceWe live in a culture that compels us to be in constant motion. We fill our space with the noise of movement, sounds, smells, and even conversation. We have forgotten the sound of silence. Acknowledging the need for silence is the first step to finding silence in a noisy world.

We need silence to bring us back to the now. The ability to create stillness is becoming just as important as eating and exercise to achieve a healthy life style. In silence, we release our minds from thoughts that push us into the future and prevent us from being in the present.

Silence encourages us to absolve ourselves from multi-tasking and the need to think and act immediately. By adding silence to your life you will find the more mindful you become, the more space for silence you are able to create. But first we have to tune out the noise.

Noise has multiple personalities. It arrives uninvited and takes up residence in every single aspect of our lives. Visual noise shows up as litter on the highway, billboards, road signs, and social and print media. The din of retail stores, offices, electronics, automobiles, voices and music creates constant audio noise.

Noise cloud, cloud of noise, noise pollutionSmells and aromas are noise too. Perfume, pungent spices, garbage, pollution and exhaust fumes are just the tip of the noise-of-smell iceberg. Not all smells are bad—but they are present nevertheless and contribute to the racket.

Let’s talk about noise in the workplace. I work in an open concept office, which seems to be the new trend. I have a love-hate relationship with this model because of the noise.  Most of us wear noise cancelling headphones or listen to music. We have a collaborative work environment and we create noise through phone calls, paper shredding, aisle conversations, the espresso machine … and we laugh a lot. We make noise. When I die, nobody in the room is going to say “she went quietly” and that means I’m part of the noise.  It’s a stressful environment that lasts all day long.

Finding Silence

A life full of noise is a life without relief or space to simply be. The only way to become comfortable with silence is to practice it. That’s a challenge for most of us.  Silence makes us uncomfortable.  When it is quiet, we feel compelled to fill the emptiness with noise. We have given noise permission to fill every aspect of our lives and we are dependent on it; convinced that without it something is missing.

Silence, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese symbol for silenceA little silence woven into each day creates a place for self-reflection. There are many ways to do this but most agree the first step is to look inward and quiet your mind. Meditation, yoga, prayer, running, reading, and simply sitting quietly are a few ways to begin the process of creating mindful silence. My favorite time to do this is very early in the morning or late at night.

I use a simple technique called 4-7-8 breathing.

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  5. This is one breath.
  6. Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

This exercise is a natural tranquilizer and a wonderful centering tool. It slows your heart rate, calms your nervous system and helps create a quiet place in your mind.  When you diminish noise, you increase your capacity for creativity, thoughtfulness and self-reflection.  We need silence to discover ourselves and know who we are.

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