The Self-Help Tip of the Year is “Intermittent Silence”
Silence is the source of ideas, music, and inner strengths in our lives. How do we benefit from this quality of silence? Some go to ten-day silent meditation retreats, while others practice mindfulness at home. I find that a ten-minute practice of intermittent silence a day can do just that and help transform our lives. New doors start opening to our inner self, and a transformative emotional and spiritual journey of learning to trust the Universe and our inner voice starts taking shape. This, I propose to be the self-help practice of the year.
Let’s look at the words of the year: lockdown, quarantine, resilience, and more. I agree with Ariana Huffington that resilience should be the word of the year. However, I also feel that practice of intermittent silence customized to building resilience should be the self-help tip of the year.
The power to build resilience is within us. Just as we can learn other skills through practice, we can teach ourselves to be more resilient. We can train our mind and condition our brain to learn and be resilient, but how do we grow the resiliency from inside us, so that it is no more an imposition on our minds? That is where practice of intermittent silence steps in.
Certainly, it’s not hard to see the urgent need this year for resilience. According to a recent C.D.C. report, 41 percent of Americans have struggled with mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, or substance abuse related to the pandemic. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report found that nearly eight in ten adults say the pandemic is a major source of stress, and 60 percent are overwhelmed by the issues currently facing America. And suspected overdoses went up 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May.
Talking is a bridge that connects us to others; silence is a bridge that connects us with our inner self. Connecting better with our inner self also enables us to connect better with others. Intermittent Silence has four definite steps to follow. Here, we will explore each of the four steps as exploring of the inner self in a positive manner.
- Close your mouth – Be without words for ten minutes. Apart from giving rest to the associated areas of the brain, closing the mouth has another distinct advantage. We all express and communicate by mouth with verbal language and with the body using facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. All that is now internalized. We can learn how to communicate in silence. This period can be used to rehearse what we are going to express outside, whether it be a PowerPoint presentation, steps of an important surgery, or a musical recital. In fact, many of us already do that. Practice of intermittent silence can only make it better. This also forms the pillar for positive thinking and positive imaging. The pillars can be grounded in the silence once the inner the doors to inner communications and inner expressions become closing in the silence, which starts by closing the mouth.
- Close your eyes – stop observing outwards and start observing inside. Closing the eyes rests large part of brain, which includes the retina, optic nerves, and the entire visual pathway. That is just the beginning of the practice of intermittent silence. There is much more to closing the eyes during the practice of intermittent silence. After all, you close the eyes during sleep as well. Slowly and slowly, new doors to inner observatory starts opening up. The inner world is as vast, if not vaster than the outer world, and the journey starts with closing of the eyes. You can start observing the inner you, feeling the energy of consciousness, the in and out of the life energy, and much more.
- Silent listening – You close your mouth and close your eyes and now, you are ready to become a listener. Just a listener to start with. Most of us have urge to speak and are not good listeners. Here is an occasion to listen without any interference, inference, or judgement.
While practicing silent listening, it’s important to remember silence is not the complete absence of sound. The wind still blows, the ocean waves crash, the birds still sing, and our hearts continue to beat. Paying attention to our own inner worlds is healing and enriching. And silence is a powerful force and an opportunity. Moments of silence express mourning, elicit reflection, inspire meditation or prayer, and gives us the possibility to explore vital truths.
Here is the moment where to some of us, music is born. In order to hone in skills, a musician must still the mind, body, and soul to create, to compose, to think through a masterwork. In the silence of the studios, after a musician technically masters the notes on the page, he/she improvises and conceives of an interpretation, which is an amalgamation of the composer’s intentions with their personality.
- Silent watching of thoughts – Exploring inner conversations.
The suggestion is to just watch the thoughts pass through. Let the thoughts just transit the mind, without giving them any energy. You watch thoughts as if you are watching cars go by on a highway. If a thought gets attached or hijacks you, get back to watching once you realize. There are no distractions, and there is no wrong way. Just keep watching.
However, this is just one aspect of silent watching of thoughts. This practice also empowers you to delve into your inner conversations. The practice of intermittent silence empowers you the ability of observing or starting inner conversations.
Many of us have either experienced it or deliberately done it in one way or another. We all know the story of Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen coming up with the title of their book. As they searched for a winning title, Canfield and Hansen each agreed to meditate on the subject for one hour a day. Jack visualized the image of his grandmother’s chicken soup and remembered how she told him it would cure anything. The book would have the same healing powers as that soup, but not for the body—for the soul. Thus, the now famous title was born…Chicken Soup for the Soul.
We all have our own story or stories. I remember one where I had done a big surgery. The patient was doing fine and under close monitoring in the intensive care unit (ICU). I did not get a call, but in my silence around midnight, felt that the patient was not doing well. The inner conversation was so strong that I got up and went to the ICU, only to find out that the patient was in shock. Necessary measures were taken, and he did fine after that.
The point here is that practice of intermittent silence can enhance our abilities that we don’t know exist with us. The time spent in stillness can be rejuvenating and refreshing, even if it’s sometimes frustrating. No worthy invention, thought, discovery, or masterpiece was ever conceived otherwise.
During the most challenging times in history, during deprivation, loss, slavery, imprisonment, we know of people who triumphed, who made meaning of their experiences. They had their minds, and they had something more—will. If we have a strong will we can prevent ourselves from sliding into sadness. A strong will comes from a strong inside, the one that we can experience and develop with the practice of intermittent silence.
Intermittent silence and resilience:
That brings us back to resilience. Resilience marks the quality with which my medical community has dealt with coronavirus. Words like corona and quarantine will come and go, but resilience is here to stay with us now and beyond. Resilience is the quality that was summoned in us by all the challenges of 2020. And it’s also the quality that’s going to carry us forward into 2021.
Resilience is often spoken about — including in the Oxford dictionary definition — in terms of navigating or simply getting through challenges. But the key part of resilience isn’t about bouncing back; it’s about bouncing forward. It’s about using adversity as a catalyst to get better and become stronger.
How do we improve resilience from inside? After having practiced the four steps of intermittent silence for a month or so, you can use that space to improve the resilience or other similar life practices by starting an inner conversation. That new conversation could be resilience. You can recall instances where you have been resilient and or create situations where you can become resilient. Your inner space is controlled entirely by you and the power of inner force is with you. You journey to the inner source where you find the force, during your intermittent silence practice and the force is there in the form of resilience to stay with you. And, once resilience comes from inside you, it’s now a permanent part of you.