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The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Healing Power of Silence

Forced separation for safety during the COVID-19 crisis can be upsetting, but if we quietly accept our time away from others, the experience can be a lesson in the healing power of silence.

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If you’ve been feeling like an actor in a sci-fi movie lately, you’re not alone. We, and all world citizens, are without a doubt living in a reality we never imagined.

We all hope this dangerous virus and the social and economic conditions resulting from its spread will soon subside, allowing our activities and the economy to return to normalcy. But fighting the situation in which we find ourselves will only increase our level of stress.

Like most of us, you’re likely spending more time at home than you normally do; refraining from inviting guests over in order to follow government safety guidelines. Why not use the time to partake of the therapeutic effects of silence.

On Our Seeming Need for Noise

Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson recently composed a commentary entitled “A quiet room can silence our anxieties”. He offers a quote by Blaise Pascal:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

I agree. Objectivity comes through looking at the big picture from a neutral position.

But sadly, most of us, at least in America, seem to find silence awkward and upsetting. We fight it with chatter, television, radio, music. Each of those are fine, in moderation, but for sound mental health and inspiration, we must make room for the experience of silence.

Why do so many of us feel uncomfortable about the absence of constant conversation when spending time with others? Why must we fill our space with nerve-fraying noise from various media when we find ourselves alone?

Perhaps we believe we will feel less pain from stress if we are distracted. But the opposite is actually the case. Time spent quietly with others or, most especially, alone in solitude, has been proven to ease stress and anxiety, as detailed in this PsychCentral article. Here are a few thoughts about why silence is so good for you from HuffPost.

Following are two techniques for savoring the power of silence:

  1. Sit Quietly With Eyes Closed – Stop the Thinking Process

If one is not used to sitting calmly alone, it may take a bit of adjustment, but learning to eliminate distractions and truly relax is important for long-term mental health and success.

Find a comfortable spot inside your house or apartment, or on the porch or lawn. If it’s possible it can be even more beneficial to seek out a private setting in a nearby forest, field or park.

Close your eyes or let them blur slightly. Don’t pressure yourself, but try to turn off your thinking process. Visualize a pleasant scene in your mind if you like, or just relax and let thoughts pass.

2. Sit Quietly With Eyes Open – Mindfully Observe Your Surroundings

How often do we simply sit silently and appreciate the intricate details of the everyday items in front of us?

Our ancestors did just that often, before television and other distractions became common. In earlier days, when people had a break from work they sat down, looked around the room, porch or lawn, truly focusing on what was around them.

That action, or perhaps I should say lack of such, helped them to appreciate the structure and details of their possessions, though they had much less than we do today; treasured books upon a shelf, a vase of flowers, a favorite painting . . . the faces of family members.

These days, life goes by in a blur. We barely slow enough to focus on anything. Today, I decided to practice something I’ve forgotten over the past few years, since my sense of ambition has increased.

I’m sitting quietly at home on an early spring Saturday morning. I notice the intricacies of my cat’s coat colors as she savors the warmth and beauty of a fleeting sunbeam. I observe the details of a Christmas decoration I’ve never taken down, shining in the bright spring sun.

I appreciate the construction of a Shaker style chair I inherited from previous generations; the subtle flare of the posts and backrest, the regular rows of the woven cane seat. I wonder about the person who brought it into being, sometime in the late nineteenth century.

Few craftspeople exist today with the talent and patience to create in the manner of traditional carpenters who put their heart into each piece of furniture they brought to life – who worked in silence, their hands guided by unseen forces.

Sometimes it Takes Fate to Teach Us to Appreciate the Power of Silence

Some of us fight the notion of spending time at peace until illness or some other necessary interruption of our modern, roller coaster existence shows us how nice it can be to give our mind a rest.

Michael Gerson had his epiphany during a hospital stay. He mentions the way in which being quiet helps one experience the present. “The mind is like a whirling hamster wheel of worry and ambition. Stopping it for just a moment . . . feels like the reset that results from interrupting a circuit,” he says.

Indeed, many a problem for which someone could find no solution has been solved by the technique of taking a break and focusing on nothing.

Freeing up space in our field of consciousness clears mental blocks and allows answers to enter, effortlessly. We may not be able to explain how this process works but we can be thankful for the results.

I hope that this virus which has already stolen lives permanently, and disrupted the livelihoods of so many, soon exists only as a memory.

But insight can come from nearly every difficulty.The shelter in place order, in addition to keeping us safe, can offer us a bonus – a reminder of the essential importance of quiet time and privacy.

Meditate, read a book, water your houseplants, however you spend it, take some time to revel in the beauty of silence as together we await the opportunity to make a fresh start when the pandemic crisis has passed.

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