Quieten your mind, quieten your world
In a year where concerts and music festivals have been cancelled, buskers in busy train stations have been misplaced, and honk-filled commutes have been cut down, the amount of noise we still deal with on a daily basis is staggering, and exhausting. Noise isn’t just referring to the sound of jackhammers or barking dogs — it goes for more subtle distractions as well — like the mumble of a background YouTube video during breakfast or vibrating phones while studying for a test. Thinking of the concepts of noise and silence as broader than just referring to sound give us a helpful metaphor that reminds us to be mindful and cut distractions, and ultimately boost our feeling of positive well-being.
Why aim for silence?
Auditing your day to look for where noise overpowers silence can be taken literally — find the moments where distractions persist and cut into meaningful work. Or, can be taken more broadly to pick out instances where blips of attention are taken from you, maybe through phone notifications or negative thoughts. Striving for silence means giving yourself the space to hack away at the noise, and ultimately live more in line with your values.
Taken literally, the power of silence can add to living mindfully. Silent moments free from distraction or analytical thought activate a mode of thinking that helps the brain break down previously learned information. A quiet environment contributes to giving the brain a space to process thoughts, and this, coupled with a mindfulness practice can be a perfect recipe for meaningful self-reflection.
Silence over noise is also a good bet for creating relaxation and releasing stress. Several studies have shown the benefits of moments of silence and their correlations to relaxation over similar moments of noise. Some studies have even found that quiet moments beat moments with soothing music in getting participants to feel relaxed!
Extending the Metaphor
I like to think of noise and silence as two opposing forces, the unnecessary vs. the necessary, or the meaningless vs. the meaningful. They can be thought of like a body of water, a placid lake. In silent moments, the water runs still, undisturbed. Noise is rainfall, a hailstorm, a mudslide, anything that disturbs this peace.
The stillness of the mind is akin to silence, and a disturbed mind, filled with extraneous thoughts and disharmony, is akin to noise. I would recommend striving for stillness by disarming and disengaging with the noise. You can read more about this in my guide about identifying and disputing cognitive distortions here.
After internalizing the metaphor of noise vs. silence, try to explore moments that you could turn the volume down on a little bit, both literally and figuratively. Is the TV on while you make breakfast in the morning? Take a break and allow yourself to sit with the stillness of the morning ambiance. Or, explore the rippling of your thoughts; is there rain on the surface of the lake? Single out the thoughts that are interfering with your feelings of stillness.
Thanks for reading this piece! Let me know in the comments if this sparks any ideas on how you can move toward silence this week! Follow me here on Medium for updates on new pieces on stress management, mental health and well-being. And click to follow me on instagram here.