A crazy thing happened today — everyone left my house. And they left me in it. Alone.
There was work and soccer and a playdate and the people here had places to go and after weeks of noise and laughter and television running at weird times and conversations and rants – there was nothing. Silence.
I sat in it. Just sat in the quiet space.
The noise – even the delightful noise of fun and silliness and love – was the hardest thing for me adjust to when I abandoned the single life to get married and have a child.
But on this end-of-summer day, I’d almost forgotten how to be in the quiet. I sat for a minute. Took deep breaths. Then I began poking at my phone and thinking about the DVR’d shows I could watch. Then, I thought again.
I shut off the technology. Sat in the brown chair with the leather peeling off. I fidgeted, worried that I wasn’t doing enough around the house or that I should fold laundry. And then I remembered the power of the quiet.
I listened for my heartbeat. Heard my breath. Closed my eyes and felt the peace that comes with silence. I felt grounded again. Then I turned on the music and rocked out when nobody was watching. But that was only after I had settled into the stillness.
Silence is Key to Peace
Silence is the key to my sanity. And I spend much of my day looking for pockets of quiet in the middle of the busyness. To have hours of uninterrupted time – not all of it sitting still, but all of it spent in silence – was restorative.
It allowed space for my next writing project to develop. It helped me sort through my thoughts about a recent argument. I found compassion in that quiet time. A new perspective and with that came appreciation and gratitude and humor.
Quiet time is an antidote to stress. It is the entre’ to clarity, health, well-being. It enhances focus and concentration and boosts creativity.
Shocked in the Silence
But, apparently not everyone thinks so. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard University found that quiet time freaks most people out.
Most of the study participants had a hard time sitting alone with their thoughts for up to 15 minutes and wanted something else to do. In another experiment in the study, some even opted for a mild electric shock rather than sitting quietly, though they earlier had said “they would pay to avoid” the pain of it, according to researchers.
The brain is wired to engage with life and to experience the outer world, researchers concluded. So, perhaps this is why it becomes difficult, scary even, to sit quietly and engage with the inner world.
Health Risks of Noise
But life is noisy. Lawnmowers and airplanes and computers and cars and iPods and smart phones and televisions blaring in the background of homes and minivans and restaurants. All that noise is not good for our health or our peace of mind.
Numerous studies talk about the risks of chronic environmental noise. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/07-08/silence.aspx It can increase our stress and blood pressure, contribute to more heart attacks and even cause cognitive delays in children.
At home, our constant need to go and do and text and tune in and turn on the devices in our lives contributes to our stress and feelings of overwhelm. Beyond that, the racket in between keeps us from engaging with each other at the dinner table. We are so busy tuning in to other things, that we aren’t paying enough attention to our own needs, or those of others.
Our own personal growth, our ability to create and thrive and act with compassion is dependent also on our ability to sit quietly. In that stillness we can develop our self-awareness, contemplate life’s big questions – and the little ones like what the heck will I make for dinner?
In that stillness we remember our values and find meaning in the moments of our lives. Those are the things that make a busy, noisy life one that is also full of joy and love and connection.
So, which would you choose: an electric shock or 15 minutes alone with your thoughts?
On Wednesday, I’ll offer up some easy ways to reap the rewards of silence by finding a little quiet time in the middle of your day.