By Ty Phillips
Science has given us a fairly definitive answer on what noise does to the human body.
In a culture that is constantly plugged in, tuned in and on the go, we are in a state of perpetual noise and motion. The TV is on in one room and the radio is on in another. We cook while watching yet another TV that is on in the kitchen. When we take a walk we have our iPods in, oblivious to the world around us and when we drive we drown out the sounds of our children with the radio.
What many of us don’t realize is that this constant state of noise elevates our stress levels by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, and our bodies are thrown into a constant state of “readiness.”
When faced with a few moments of down time, we reach for the remote, our cell, our laptop or any other number of things to distract us from the company of ourselves.
There is no one home, all devices are off or away and here we are, rocking back and forth, drumming on our legs, tapping our fingers, looking from room to room for something to do; just sitting in the silence is no longer an option.
When the silence comes, our inner monologue aren’t blocked out by our constant in-flow of distractions. We can hear our depression, our anxiety, our anger and our doubts and fears. We sit and obsess over lost loves and lost opportunities.
Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do that? Why don’t they love me anymore?
Nope…I can’t take it…where is the clicker? And on comes Oprah to tell us to buy the next great book to help us be more calm or we click on reality TV to watch rich people waste time arguing with each other or be mortified by discovered sex tapes.
Yes…ahhhh…much better. We kick our feet up, crack open a beer and revel in the misery of others.
A few lazy minutes later and the program is over. We don’t want to watch what’s on next so we search through our 1000 channels looking for something else to watch—but nothing is on. Instantly we feel a little agitated.
“Why do I pay for this crap if I can’t find anything to watch?” Our foot starts wiggling or we start popping our knees up and down in instant boredom.
We search through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, “uggg, I’m so bored!”
When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, I remember going to visit my grandmother who lived with her mother, my great grandmother. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV there; the TV only came on in the evening for an hour and a half—30 minutes for the news and then Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
That was it.
She was content to sit in her chair—in silence—for hours at a time, just twiddling her thumbs and being with herself. When it was dinner time, she would get up; wash her hands, put on her apron, and cook a meal; from scratch. Dinner wasn’t ready in 20 minutes, it was ready in an hour and half and it was amazing!
I remember feeling being okay with this. I could sit and draw, read or play with Linkin Logs and be perfectly entertained.
As an adult, even as a practicing Buddhist who is used to meditation periods that have gone into hours, I still find myself tapping my feet, pacing the floor, searching for that distraction to drown out the silence. What a ridiculous notion.
The silence can be a scary thing.
We have almost forgotten how to sit with ourselves; to allow the process of actually being with our emotions as they eb and flow, to actually take place. We have lost the comfort of being okay with uncertainties. We need an answer now.
Text me back. Email me back. Like my status!
This isn’t to say that these things aren’t of any benefit. Our ability to communicate at a faster pace can save lives but it can also rob us of our ability to live with ourselves.
We don’t want to deal with our anxiety and fear. We want to ignore it or find something to take the focus off of it. The silence is scary in that we are sitting with what is most important yet don’t know how to allow it to just be. We feel the constant need to correct it, change its course, medicate it, drink it away, etc. This is why Buddhists put so much focus on meditation.
Meditation isn’t a process of oblivion—silencing all thoughts—but instead a process of silencing the need to control everything in order to just be with our thoughts, minus the judgments. It is a process of being okay with the silence and uncertainty of each new moment.
When we are okay with our silent moments, we are able to more fully embrace those moments in others; to offer a hand in the scary first steps of sitting without expectation. If we are not able to function this way ourselves, we cannot expect others to do so, or to understand how to correctly encourage them to start the process.
Maybe the next time you find yourself alone, in silence, you can just let it be. Watch your motivation, your fidgeting, and your restlessness. Just allow it to be what it is.
You’ll be surprised that soon there is less of it and instead a greater sense of comfort with just being you.
Editor: Dana Gornall