Making friends with silence

Posted on: 10th September, 2019

Category: Mental Health & Mindfulness

Contributor: Susan O'Regan

Silence can sometimes represent punishment or evoke unpleasant memories for us. Sometimes silence can be unsettling. There are, however, alternative, more positive ways to experience it.  Recently I have been researching the mental and physical health benefits of silence when it is a chosen option, for example, when practising mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness fosters stillness and silence in us, where there is great healing power to be found.  So, when we intentionally seek it out, rather than having it imposed upon us, silence can be a nurturing and deeply revealing practice.  

I began my mindfulness teacher training with the Mindfulness Association and Aberdeen University in 2015 and graduated last year with an Msc in Mindfulness Studies. This robust training included intensive periods of silence. I found this quite daunting at first, yet ultimately a deeply personal experience, ‘held’ by sharing the space with others. Mindfulness training invites a turning towards yourself, without the distractions of everyday life. It means we are ‘alone’ with our own minds but accompanied and secure by the physical presence of others.  Initially, with the absence of sound, we may experience the internal chatter of our minds as noisy and unrelenting, but as our mindfulness practice deepens, we can learn to slow our thoughts down, allowing our minds to settle and to rest.  When our minds are gently quietened and stilled, we are better able to listen to ourselves.  

Being silent not only allows us a chance to get to know ourselves, our emotions and our minds a bit better but can also benefit our relationships with other people. In my view, to be truly seen and heard by another is one of the joys of being alive. Cultivating this ability to genuinely see and hear others, as well as being seen and heard ourselves can greatly enhance the quality of our relationships. It may seem obvious, but to listen to someone involves being silent too. We can miss out on so much by constantly talking. Try being quiet and really listening the next time someone is speaking to you. See if you notice how your mind is already formulating a response, pre-empting what they are going to say, even while the person is still speaking. Every pause need not be a cue to fill the space with words. 

We can communicate much in silence, like empathy, support, strength and solidarity. Sometimes there are no words to say. Rather than being an isolating practice, in my experience, meaningful connections can be forged by staying silent. You may find that the people with whom you can share a comfortable silence are rare and very special. On the eight-week Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) that I teach locally and regionally, there is one full day of practice whereby participants remain in silence, as I guide them through some meditation practices. This day in silence always invites curiosity and raises the most reaction in my groups. Most people approach the day cautiously but report huge benefits afterwards. It seems to really consolidate and embed the teachings of the entire course.

Creating opportunities to cultivate quiet moments in our busy lives is becoming more and more essential to a healthy lifestyle. If being in silence for a whole day is something you find daunting to even think about, there are many smaller ways we can begin to adapt old habits, for example, turning off the car radio, or resisting the habit of turning on the tv when you get home, putting away the phone for a while.  See if you can spend some time now and then without the presence of artificial background noise and soon you will begin to reap the health benefits of doing so.  I’ll end on a short quote from the poet Rumi which never fails to evoke a feeling of gratitude in me. “But listen to me for one moment, quit being sad, hear blessings dropping their blossoms all around you”.

A weekly drop-in mindfulness hour runs on Tuesday mornings from 9.30 – 10.30am at the Market St Clinic, Skibbereen. My schedule of Autumn classes and courses around West Cork is currently being confirmed, please feel free to get in touch for information on courses in your area.  For more information on future workshops and courses call Susan on 087 2700572 or email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com.

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