Find Power in Silence

Silence is a source of great strength. ~Lao Tzu

When I was a kid, my family would take long road trips. We were from the Midwest, so in order to get anywhere the drive was at least six hours. But we were ambitious. Six hours was a weekend trip.

We were more interested in traveling to Detroit (a 13-hour trip) or Seattle (a 22-hour drive). When you pack five people in a car for that long, there are bound to be issues, and one of those was the radio.

Since my father drove most of the time, we were at his mercy when it came to the music. Or more often, I should say, the silence. While we were a musical family, my father would insist on turning off the radio every hour or so, just “to hear myself think,” as he said.

We would whine and complain.

“It’s just so boooooring without anything to listen to,” we’d say.

Fast forward decades later, and I suddenly find myself turning off the stereo at home, while I’m working or driving. This is odd for me — I consider myself an audiophile.

I adore all music and usually don’t go anywhere without it. I subscribe to industry magazines and am always listening to new releases, wanting to hear the next new thing. It’s probably one of my favorite types of art.

What is this all about? Perhaps I am at the same age my father was when he told us he needed time to listen to his thoughts. But more likely I think it’s that I’ve finally come to appreciate silence.

Silence Offers Rest

It isn’t just about taking a nap or getting your eight hours at night. Our brains are constantly being bombarded. From the obligations of a job to the goings-on at home to the social life we maintain, our minds are full of to-do lists. And when you add advertisements and social media? Talk about sensory overload.

I’m happy with my work, home and friends. I don’t want to remove these things from my life, but sometimes my brain feels fatigued.

Who am I kidding? Sometimes my whole body feels fatigued. And what seems to be helping lately is dialing back the passive media consumption, whether that be TV watching or listening to music or podcasts.

Your mind might jump around a bit with the silence it feels it “needs” to fill. At least mine did. But eventually it will settle down and enjoy the ability to focus fully on whatever task you’re doing.

Lately I’ve been enjoying cooking in silence. The smells are much more pungent to me and the final product always seems to taste better.

Multitasking exhausts our brains; listening to music while doing other activities is a subtle form of multitasking. I’m not suggesting we must all sit at attention while checking out a new artist, but I do believe our brains could use a break now and then so it can recharge for our next jam session.

Time for Contemplation

Just like a computer, our brains must process all that data we collect every day. And just like a computer, our brains slow down and struggle with processing when we have too many programs running.

In order to act from a place of love, we need to be able to understand and deal with what happens in our lives. We need to process. I’ve heard meditation works really well for this, but I’m still working up to that one.

At this point, I find the easiest way to process is to go for a run. I used to bring my headphones to distract myself from the agony of cardio, but one day I decided to go without and actually enjoyed it much more. Instead of feeling miserable the whole time, I finished feeling better. As a bonus I felt much more clear-headed.

Now every time I run or go for a walk I leave the music at home. It gives me time to deal with things in my day, which allows me to act instead of react.

So the next time you’re looking for clarity, seek some silence and focus on a more mindless task, like walking or weeding the garden. I bet 30 minutes will be all you need to feel more in tune with yourself and the world.

Things Mean More

In one of my favorite movies a character wonders out loud whether after being married for 60 years, saying “I love you” is kind of like saying “cheese sandwich.” I’m not sure I’m 100 percent on board with this theory, but it makes a good point.

I was definitely born with the gift of gab. And a few of my friends were too, so when we get together we can talk for hours.

But if we’re around each other for too long, our conversations get a little … diluted. We’ll start talking about cream cheese for 15 minutes while waiting in line at the grocery store. Not that it’s a bad thing. It can just get a little silly.

I never realized this until I started spending time with a few people who were quieter, one of whom is my husband. I was doing all the talking, and these friends weren’t really responding.

I was a little hurt at first, but then I thought about what I was saying and came to see there wasn’t anything to respond with. I was just filling dead air.

But when these folks made conversation, what they said was insightful, witty and thoughtful. I value what they’ve brought into my life, because I’ve finally figured out that it’s OK to be quiet around someone else. The conversations we have are deeper, and I’ve learned to practice thinking before speaking. Hallelujah!

I still love getting on the phone and chatting it up with my talkative friends, but I value the moments of silence in between. And I’ve found that even my really chatty friends don’t mind being quiet now that I don’t.

When you’re having conversations, give yourself permission to allow silence. These moments offer a time to reflect on what you’ve heard or what you’re about to say. It allows you to be a better friend, coworker, spouse and more. There really is something to be said for quality over quantity.

In my journey with silence, I feel like I’ve found a place of peace, I’ve made positive changes in myself and, by extension, the world around me.

I encourage everyone to relish the small pauses in your life and extend them just a little outside your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at the results.

 

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