(This article was written for Newfield Network on invitation, published here.)
“See how Nature — trees, grass, flowers — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, the sun — how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” — Mother Teresa
As urbanites, we are constantly surrounded, inundated and even invaded with external sounds/noise. And perhaps we’ve become misguided that we are ‘normal’ when we are talking, chatting online, listening to music etc… all the time.
Never in human history have we been exposed to such an artillery of weapons of mass distractions! Our sensory organs became more and more accustomed to these external stimulations and this conditioning makes it deeply uncomfortable for us to be with silence, with stillness. It’s certainly not biological, it’s habitual.
We have become increasingly disconnected from nature and silence since the Industrial Revolution when our social worth was tagged to doing, to being useful and productive. And now, it is tagged to being ‘busy’. So silence has become the much feared antonym of ‘busy’/worthy.
We feel empty in silence so we fill our lives with sounds which create the illusion of ‘company’. Underlying this dependence for sounds (and hence, activities or constant ‘doing’) is our fear of being alone with ourselves. When we run from silence, we run from ourselves. We know we can run but we cannot hide forever because we would not be living a life that is ours. It would be one dictated by external stimulations and distractions — that is, we are living someone else’s life!
Without consciously creating the space for silence, we are denying ourselves the space to reflect, to ask ourselves why we do what we do, why we live how we live…. in other words to connect with ourselves in a way that develops a sense of whole and meaning, that cultivates self awareness and self responsibility.
The practice of silence is called different names across traditions — quiet time, prayers, contemplation, meditation — yet a great place to start is simply ‘knowingly breathing’.
Here’s an easy breathing exercise that can be practised anytime anywhere:
- Relax your body wherever you are — on your office chair, in the subway, standing in a bus…
- Expand your chest and slowly drop your shoulders towards the floor, away from your ears.
- If you are comfortable to close your eyes, you may at this point — if you are not, you may leave them open but keep your gaze soft.
- Bring your attention to your breath — begin by taking a long and deep inhale and slowly and complete exhale. Then repeat 3 times.
- With the next inhale, listen to the sound of your breath and quietly say the words, ‘Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in’/’Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out’. Harmonise your words (your mind) with your breath (your body).
- Repeat this for up to 7 cycles, uninterrupted if you can.
- Take a moment to relish the stillness, the silence and set an intention for the next thing you are about to do/or the rest of the day ahead before gently coming back to where you are.
This ‘knowingly breathing’ practice can be integrated into your daily life without it becoming ‘another thing that you have to find time to do’. There are many ways to invite silence through the day:
- Start your day right by letting this be the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, finish off by setting the intention for the day ahead before you get off bed.
- End the day well by letting this be the last thing you do before you close your eyes and recount one thing that you are thankful for, for the day.
- Eat with gratitude by letting this breathing exercise be what you do before you dig into your plate — and that’s at least twice or three times a day, depending on how many meals you take.
- Walk and breathe knowingly and observe how many steps you take with the in-breath and how many with the out-breath.
In this increasingly volatile and ambiguous environment that we live in, a daily practice of silence provides a source of great strength and therefore helps us become more resilient and empathetic. When we are comfortable with silence, we also become active listeners because we don’t just listen to respond — and that transforms our relationships. (Side note: ‘Silent’ and ‘Listen’ have the same letters!) We become what we practise. When we become more at ease with who we are and who we are to each other, we come to a place of inner peace.
A daily practice of silence through meditation, journaling and long walks in solitude, in nature saved, healed and transformed Anthea from a colossal collapse more than 10 years ago. It is still transforming her everyday. For her, silence is not empty but full of answers. Anthea happily straddled between corporate leadership and active volunteerism/social entrepreneurship until Dec 2013 when she took her last corporate paycheck as managing director in a UK-listed company to fully embrace the calling of living out her multidimensional aspirations to serve through coaching, yoga/meditation, volunteerism and social entrepreneurship. Anthea is most quoted in the media as Founder of Hush, Singapore’s 1st roving silent teabar and a social movement to encourage silence and awareness to corporate executives through an engaged tea reflection experience led by Deaf facilitators, called TeaRistas. She was introduced as a ‘silence evangelist’ as a floor speaker at TEDx 2015 Singapore.
(Photo credit: Kelvin Chng)
**I wrote this in August 2017 before I discovered Medium.com. :)