When was the last time you were truly bored? What did you do when you felt that way? Like most people, maybe you picked up your phone, or turned on the TV.
Now think about what you did as a child when you were bored for a prolonged period of time. You played pretend, went outside and made up games, or created something. After moving past the initial discomfort that comes with boredom, you unlocked your purest form of imagination and creativity.
With the presence of technology and modern amenities, it’s more common than not to avoid boredom by redirecting your attention to superficial and meaningless scrolling. The problem is, those activities don’t actually bring you out of boredom—on the contrary, they egg it on because they lack significance and don’t generate any true productivity or satisfaction.
Boredom means that you are not preoccupied by anything and are searching for something more stimulating or desirable. It’s something you have to learn to sit with and find a way to overcome. If dealt with in the right way, it can lead you to a silence of the mind that leads to creative expression, inspiration, and contemplation. But you have to experience silence, instead of preoccupying yourself with a mindless activity, in order to access those functions.
What is Silence?
Life is noisy. Wherever you are at this moment, take a moment to notice the noise around you. Is there a fan blowing, or an air conditioner humming? Is your TV on in the background? Maybe you can hear the cars and trucks outside on the street, doors opening and closing, phones ringing, or people talking around you.
But noise doesn’t just refer to sounds. In a broader sense, noise is all of the meaningless hubbub going on around you at any given time. In our modern, turbulent, busy lives, there are constant lights, sounds, smells, and experiences that result in sensory overstimulation. There is always a baseline of incessant noise, but we tend not to notice because it feels so normal.
What happens with this noise? It actually affects you on multiple levels. Noise is created in your external environments, but over time, it moves inward and starts to drown out the inner voice. Your inner voice is often what leads you to creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making, and ultimately draws you to the things that matter most in life. So, aside from just being a distraction, the constant noise in your life can inhibit your sense of self-awareness and distract your focus. If the space in your brain is completely taken up by external noise, it becomes incredibly difficult to think creatively and solve conflicts.
It is therefore crucial to take the time to counteract this noise with silence.
If you were asked to define “silence,” your first thought would probably be “lack of noise” as it relates to sound. But if you look at noise in the context of overall sensory overstimulation, silence can also take on a much broader definition.
Think about silence in language: it is the absence of speech. It can also be defined as a kind of narrative gap. Silence is relative and can be reflected in the mood of a setting. For example, comparatively, a spa feels more silent than a shopping mall because of the aesthetic of the environment.
In this context, silence has to do with the stillness that is brought into your space. According to Dr. Kevin Cloninger, director of Well-Being Coaching at PALM Health, “This stillness may be experienced externally, but it is also a part of an inner state—inner stillness or inner peace.”
The Role of Silence in a Meaningful Life
Knowing how to find moments of silence, or external and internal stillness, is crucial in developing a meaningful and happy life in two main ways: by unlocking potentials that will help you grow in your sense of self, and by improving the capacity of communication in your relationships.
Growth Within the Self
Silence is essential to the brain’s restorative process. “Each night as you sleep, the brain takes advantage of relative silence and a lack of mental activity to clean itself and restore itself,” says Dr. Cloninger. When you truly attain a state of inner stillness, as you would in a moment of contemplation or while engaging in meditation or mindfulness, there may be a mimicking of the brain’s cleansing activity during sleep. This is why practices like contemplation and mindfulness invoke the feeling of being rested and restored.
Not only do moments of silence help the brain rest and rejuvenate, but there is also evidence that the brain grows from it. Research has found that your brain recognizes silence as an input of information, rather than a lack thereof. Silence promotes cell development in the areas of the brain in charge of sensory memory formation. The overall effect is emotional regeneration and preservation of neuroplasticity.
When your brain isn’t being used for task-oriented processes, it is in a “default mode.” You might think this means it is “resting,” but the default mode of your brain is actually more active than the task-oriented mode. This is because it is constantly collecting information about your environment, even when you aren’t paying attention.
“Essentially, in moments that lack specific goal-directed tasks, your brain is trying to unite the internal and external and understand your place within that,” says Dr. Cloninger. “So silence, in this sense, gives us space and time to understand who we are.”
Silence leaves you alone with your inner dialogue, which allows you to reflect, resolve conflicts, and understand your feelings by granting you access to higher levels of your own creativity and inspiration. Being alone with your thoughts and inner voice is pivotal to knowing yourself.
Eliminating the distractions of media or other activities once in a while can lead you to a state of boredom. But if you simply sit with this boredom instead of turning to some form of media to relieve it, you can eventually connect with a deeper potential within yourself.
Growth in Human Connection
According to Dr. Cloninger, “silence is an essential ingredient in human relationships.” What does this mean? Silence makes you present and receptive to communication. By increasing your capacity to listen other people, silence creates a space for true discourse and becomes a point of contact in a relationship.
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or family member in which your words seemed to be going over their head, or vice versa, and the conversation never went anywhere? This is common in arguments, when emotions take over and start to close off each person’s ability to listen. This leads to circular arguments that never get resolved.
The ability to listen intently in moments of silence when you communicate with others allows for contemplation, intimacy, intellectual sharing, and a greater understanding of both your own perspectives and the other person’s perspectives.
Cultivating the skill of being with your own thoughts also increases your sensitivity to others’ needs. Silence forces you to confront your inner conflicts, and doing so elevates your self-awareness in a way that helps you communicate deeply with others. “If people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts, they often fill the silence in their lives with noise to avoid looking within,” says Dr. Cloninger. “Then, their fear of silence leads them to speak out of turn, which is insensitive to others.”
Taking the Time to Find Silence
It’s simple to talk about the importance of silence in life, but how do you create space for it with all of the turbulence and chaos going on around you? It’s likely that your first thought is, “I don’t have time to do that.” You wouldn’t be the only one—with all of the daily demands and “go-go-go” nature of modern life, it’s hard to create time.
The way you manage your time is determined by your values. Think about some of the things you always make time for, and why that is. Is it time with a loved one? Certain meetings or appointments? Work? Your answers are probably things that you value quite highly.
However, there are probably some things you value less that still end up taking up a lot of your time. Unfortunately, bustle and expectations of our culture tend to emphasize spending time on things that matter the least, while pushing self-care time to the bottom of the priority list. How many times have you forgone something you’d planned to do for yourself because something more important or more urgent came up? The reality is, moments of silence and self-reflection should be as highly valued as the other things you make time for, if not more.
If you take a look at the things you spend your time on, you will probably find that a lot of those are things that bring you temporary, external pleasure, as opposed to long-lasting satisfaction. How much time do you spend scrolling through social media, watching TV, or shopping? Activities like these, though fun and good in moderation, are rooted in instant gratification.
Satisfaction, on the other hand, is a deeper sense of fulfillment and well-being that comes from hard work, loving relationships, and unity with nature. The self-reflection that comes with silence and stillness allows you to fully experience and appreciate the sources of true satisfaction in your life. Thus, it is absolutely imperative to make time for it.
There are several first steps you can take to start the process of creating space for silence in your life.
Notice the Noise
It may be helpful to evaluate all of the sources of noise in your day-to-day routine. Pay attention to the little things—fans, the air conditioner, text message alerts, and other similar details. Can you eliminate any of them? Try turning off the fan, or turning down the air conditioner, or putting your phone or computer on silent. Keep the TV off instead of playing it in the background. You may be surprised by the difference you’ll notice.
Take a Walk
Relaxed physical movement can help to stimulate a state of internal silence. Try taking a walk somewhere quiet every day by yourself, without headphones or any other distractions. Use this time to allow your mind simply to be in stillness.
Meditation and Contemplation
Engaging in well-being practices such as meditation and contemplation provide a more methodical way to eliminate the noise within you and in your environment. These practices help bring your mind and body to a state of serenity that will eventually allow you to expand upon your self-reflection and awareness.
Anthropedia’s well-being coaching program, offered at PALM Health, is geared toward intensive self-exploration and understanding. “Coaching can help you tap into inner resources you may not even be aware you have, which will make you more resilient to challenges,” says Dr. Cloninger. The experience of coaching can help you reflect upon your values and what brings you meaning and satisfaction in life, ultimately leading to greater happiness and well-being.
Without creating the space for silence, there can be a lot of missed opportunities for creativity, inspiration, awareness, and quality communication. Find stillness in your mind, in your body, and around you in order to access higher forms of intelligence and unite with your inner dialogue. Take the time that you spend on things that don’t bring you lasting satisfaction and allocate it to finding moments of silence. Prioritizing silence in your life will put you on the path to attaining a true equilibrium between your mind, body, and soul.
PALM Health is an innovative, whole-person medical and wellness company that helps people reach and maintain well-being. Our experts in medicine and wellness empower people to transform their health, become more resilient, and feel their personal best in mind and body.