What Is the Quality of Your Silence?
“Where the lips are silent the heart has a thousand tongues.”
slowing down -
the setting sun
over mountain creek
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been living and working in different environments than we would ever have anticipated. Parents and caregivers are home with young children who are in virtual school all day; business people have been working from home for months; restaurant workers are meeting the demands of constantly shifting indoor and outdoor service; service workers have pivoted to online appointments; nearly everyone has had to modify their schedule or lifestyle in some way.
Chances are also good that the noise levels at home and work in the past year have been anything but the same as pre-Covid days. For some, the home environment is noisier because family, friends, and housemates are around a lot more. While for others, it is quieter due to working from home without colleagues present.
Several years ago I had a similar change in daily habit when I spent a month at a Cistercian monastery in Norway. I joined their rituals and practices as much as I could and while initially exhausting, the daily liturgy and contemplation, work, and silence provided a welcome rhythm to my otherwise inconsistent and noisy existence. One of the most striking and surprising revelations came to me as I experienced working together to make soap in silence: Silence is my friend (and this was especially essential for me as an extrovert). Yes, the nuns occasionally spoke to clarify something, but for the most part, everything was done in consistently quiet ways – including resolving conflicts. I spent years processing those days of stillness with my spiritual director and ultimately decided it was important to incorporate silence into my daily spiritual practices.
Researchers teach us that there are psychological and physiological benefits to silence, including improved sleep, improved concentration and calm, stimulated brain development, boosted immune system, the increased ability to be more discerning in decision making, repaired cognitive resources, and a more relaxed body and brain. In addition to psychological benefits, silence promotes attention and intercontemplation, a term coined by Beverly Lanzetta to describe “the dialogue of religious experience as it reaches into deep states of contemplation and silent prayer”. Intercontemplation is a way of being that encourages the interdependence of spiritualities, religions, practices, healing, wholeness, and fecundity of nature.
Last June, Josh Sims, a journalist for the BBC, wrote an article entitled Will the world be quieter after the pandemic? In his piece, Sims considers if noise pollution will be the next major public health issue. He notices that access to quiet has been primarily granted to those with privilege, including people who have had access to quieter neighborhoods and resources for technologies that enhance peace. Sims quotes postdoctoral researcher and founder of Noise and the City, Erica Walker, who maintains that quiet should be a human right. Noise and the City, Community Noise Lab, Herb Singleton at Cross-Spectrum Acoustics, and noise researcher, Arline Bronzaft, collaborated on a research project that looked at noise levels in and around public schools. They concluded, “Noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods” and they offered their top recommendation: “[Be] noise aware!”
Since my time at the monastery, I have taken small steps to incorporate silence and intercontemplation, and be noise aware, with everything I do. At the foundational level, this looks like taking an extra breath before making a decision and allowing my body to regulate and calm. Additional ways include taking multiple day silent retreats each year, camping and backpacking in nature, taking a break from electronics, walking through the city, writing haiku, and being deliberate about the moments of silence throughout the day. If I can, I’ll do almost anything, or nothing, to recognize beauty and sustain presence.
I wonder, will there be a new standard for quiet after the pandemic?
bends rocks and minnows-
Text and photos by Jeanette Banashak
Co-Founder, Co-Director, Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
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About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.