The Sound – and Benefit – of Silence

We live in a noisy world. Throughout our waking hours, noise, information, background sounds and beeps, dings, and other signals of incoming messages on our phones, tablets, and computers assault our brains. We’ve become so accustomed to it that we don’t realize the toll it’s taking on our mind and body. Schools are out, or nearly so, across the country. We need to take a break from all the noise and luxuriate in silence, at least for a little while. Silence allows us to recuperate, reflect, and rejuvenate.

Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz offer insight into the issue in this article, and their new book, Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. Using five key insights, they move us through recognizing the scope of the problem to finding a solution that fits us as individuals.

  1. Silence isn’t just the absence of noise–The statement made me pause—and in essence that is what true silence is. It’s the full stop that has us being solely in the moment. Zorn and Marz say it is, “the experience of pristine attention, the space where no person or thing is making claims on our consciousness.” Can you recall a moment of such silence? Frequently, the moment was provided by the natural world. It could also come from reading a perfect sentence that stops you from going on. Sometimes, it’s a deeply spiritual moment. Whatever it is, the world comes to a halt, giving us a gift that’s important to recognize and cherish.
  2. The world is noisier than ever—in our ears, on our screens, and in our heads. Just as many of us lose a lot of time to being stuck in traffic, so to do we lose time figuring out what we were up to before phone call or other noise interrupted us. According to the book “Researchers have found that most people switch between different online content every 19 seconds, and the average person spends one full hour per day working to get back on track after interruptions from phones or social media.” In addition, the mental conversations we have–frequently negative self-talk–are another distraction. All of this noise makes it harder for us to stay focus and take time for what we most want to be doing.
  3. Noise is our society’s most celebrated addiction. We measure and celebrate progress based on what is being produced. Silence adds nothing to that measurement. We have forgotten we are human beings. We are all about being human doings. These moments of pristine attention are not valued. If not valued, we move to the assumption that we shouldn’t waste time with it. And in so doing, we have missed the true value attention and silence bring to our well-being.
  4. To get beyond noise, look beyond the typical rules and tools of mindfulness. We have all been advised and even trained in bringing mindfulness into our lives. While mindfulness has brought improvements into our lives, most of us find we are not managing it well enough. Instead, even knowing that mindfulness helps, we’re more distracted than ever. While there is no one size fits all solution, Zorn and Marz offer this recommendation –“notice noise, then tune in to silence.” Be aware of those great moments of pristine attention. What grabs you is different from what does it for others. Enjoy what moves you.
  5. The simple act of listening to silence can regenerate our brains. The duo quote Pythagoras, “Let your quiet mind listen and absorb the silence.” According to Duke Medical University researchers, listening to the silence promotes neuron development. How wonderful to discover that silence is productive.

Get out in nature, Contemplate art. Sit with your coffee and your thoughts. Learn where your moments of silence occur and seek them out. Silence is truly golden.