Cultivating Stillness: 4 Benefits of Silence

“He who does not know how to be silent will not know how to speak.” - Ausonius

Inspiration comes in waves. With my writing, there are periods of high output mixed with periods of silence. Over the last few weeks, I have been anxious over the fact that I was not writing and could not settle on a topic clear enough to write down and share with others.

Waking up this morning it occurred to me that these “dry spell” periods are actually as essential, if not more important, than the times when I write daily. When I am not writing I am listening, reading, and contemplating. I am living rather than writing about living. It is a period of openness when my mind shifts from creation to absorption. Times of silence are necessary to soak in new new ideas and make what comes out authentic.

Stillness in Everyday Life 

This does not only apply to writers, cultivating stillness and an openness to the world can bring a fresh outlook to worn out eyes. That being said, silence is often avoided and even feared. Think of the awkward silence between conversation topics, in crowded elevators and the deafening silence of an unrequited text!

Silence can be challenging, but there is merit in it. When we learn to appreciate silence, our appreciation of volume is magnified. It helps still the mind like a morning pond and welcomes the notes of a song, buzzing of a neighbor’s lawnmower and chirping of birds. Most importantly, we learn the art of knowing when to speak up and when to remain silent. We learn to use nothing for something.

Here are 4 Benefits of Silence that help calm the mind and allow us to appreciate the subtleties of life.

1. Silence allows us time and space to recharge. Often, when we are in need of rest or a way to blow off steam we treat one form of busyness with another. Our schedule keeps us hustling from obligation to obligation, and our down time becomes as rigid as our work. It is difficult to stop and let our mind settle when it is fettered with the worries of a busy schedule.

We go out to the bar, fill our weekends with plans and functions in the name of leisure. However, once Sunday night rolls around, we feel more exhausted then we did Friday afternoon. Then Monday hits and we wonder where the weekend went.

Instead, try taking an evening in. Turn off the TV and music, resist the urge to text and scroll Facebook and just listen. Listen to the humming of the fridge, the sound of children playing outdoors, the cars passing, and your breath. Make room to do nothing, to let the world slow down to a comfortable pace again and take time to listen as the world goes by.

2. It teaches us to listen and, in turn, to care. Listening is a priceless skill. If we can learn to listen, rather than wait for our turn to speak, an incredible thing happens. When we give our undivided attention to someone, ask meaningful questions and really be present when they speak, they will share their whole world with you.

Most of us have an innate need to be heard, but are rarely given the opportunity to feel as if we’re being understood. So our conversations become outlets for speaking rather than sharing. Knowing this, an open ear can be the best gift we can give. You will learn wonderful things about friends, family and perfect strangers and feel a sense of compassion growing by simply listening.

After a while, you won’t feel the need to speak, because you are expressing yourself fully by simply listening and being present. We come to understand that our presence is enough.

3. Silence naturally increases mindfulness. The less distractions that are around, the more sensitive our awareness becomes to subtleties. The creaking of floors, the settling of the house, the wind against the window, the pattering of your pet's paws across the kitchen floor transforms noise into sound. This is a wonderful experience, because we realize our perception of the world is dependent on our state of mind.

Noise is, well, noisy. It irks us. However, sound is soothing, beautiful and musical. If we listen, we will learn that noise and sound are one in the same. It is our internal experience that determines how we label it. By allowing room for silence, our mind has more space to appreciate what we normally understand as a nuisance. Even chores can be enjoyable with the right understanding.

As an exercise, hand wash your dishes the next time you cook a meal. Listen to the flow of water, feel the soapy texture between your fingers, the warmth of the water and the clinking of silverware. Be mindful of each action and watch your breath as is naturally flows in and out. Be mindful of the thoughts passing through your head without judging and just wash the dishes. It sounds corny, but if you can wash the dishes mindfully, you can do anything with a sense of presence.

4. Silence teaches us to be comfortable with aloneness. Taking alone time allows us to be reacquainted with ourselves. Spending an evening in to focus on our own needs, to do whatever we desire, to read a good book, to take a stroll around the neighborhood or to just sit and watch the world pass by helps us settle into our own skin again. It provides a sense of centeredness to right us when the world knocks us on an axis.

Time to myself has always been essential for peace of mind. I learned that my comfort level with myself when I am alone indicates how comfortable I am in the other areas of my life. If I am uneasy and antsy when alone, then I am preoccupied around others. Cultivating aloneness helps to overcome loneliness. One is the comfort of being alone with one's self while the other is the fear of it.

Learning to be alone is important, because if we cannot be alone with ourselves then our interactions with other are merely ways to avoid ourselves. Spending time with friends and family can be a great way to relax and blow off steam. However, using them as a way to avoid lonliness can be harmful to our sense of stability.

Appreciating Boredom

A lot of what is listed here may sound boring and it can be at first. However, there is nothing wrong with boredom. We live in an age of endless distraction with promises of excitement and interest. Technology promises to make our life more interesting, and by doing so, make us more interesting as well. However, a lot of the time being connected actually disconnects us from the truly exciting and interesting aspects of life and we lose sight of the beauty in its subtleties.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most difficult. Silence can be intimidating because it doesn’t allow for distraction. When silent, we are forced to accept what is rather than what we feel ought to be. Like most difficulties, practice is required to make the experience enjoyable. It sounds strange to advocate a practice of silence, but I do. Meditation is a form of this practice, writing is a form of this practice, drinking coffee or eating alone is a form of this practice.

If you are searching but not quite sure for what, practice silence and see what comes up.

Photo by Alice Popkorn