Let’s do a little exercise together.
Turn off your music. Turn off your TV. For real, do it.
Now put down your phone, close your eyes, and just breathe for about a minute. Don’t count, just estimate.
How long did it take you to feel awkward? Bored? Itching to pick your phone back up? If you’re anything like me, perhaps all of 7 seconds.
Before now, when was the last time you sat in complete silence? Not quietly reading a book, and not even sitting in silence while scrolling through social media. I mean real silence, where you’re not doing any talking, no one is talking to you, and you’re not putting anything into your mind.
Making time for silence is something that’s difficult for me. As an introvert, I have a deep need for rest, but lately I’ve been confusing rest and silence with watching TV, checking Facebook, and reading blogs. These things are certainly enjoyable for me, and may give me the temporary feeling of being relaxed. But they do nothing to restore my soul and calm my spirit. In fact, just the opposite.
During this year’s Lenten season, I made it a priority to be more intentional about making space for silence and meditative prayer. My practical ways of doing this were to refrain from listening to the radio in the car and watching TV during dinner. Even still, I found myself craving more silence, which has led me to a few nights where I totally unplug from all technology—TV, my computer, my phone, social media, etc. Sometimes I do read a book, sometimes I pray, and sometimes I just soak up the sweet sound of silence.
The Benefits of Silence
1. We notice more. It’s amazing how much the everyday distractions of life dull our noticing skills. If I’m looking down at my phone, how can I see the sunset? If I’ve got one eye on the TV, how can I see the fear in my husband’s eyes, which doesn’t always ring through in his words. When we turn up the silence, we turn up our senses to notice the subtle things around us: the smell of rain on a spring afternoon, the bright pops of tiny purple flowers along the sidewalk, or the low-grade ache in our souls that we were numbing with Instagram.
2. We slow down physically and mentally. Silence doesn’t allow us to jump from thing to thing: stirring the dinner pot to checking the recipe on my computer to checking how that Facebook status is doing to catching the pot as it starts to boil over and calling to my husband to come and help already. Silence helps us to remember to do just one thing at a time, and sometimes, nothing.
3. We restore our energy and health. On my unplugged nights, I often fall asleep by 8:30. It’s not because I’m bored out of my mind (far from it), it’s because I’m in tune with my body. Many of us stare at computer screens all day for work and then zone out in front of the TV screen at night, and this wires our minds and keeps us in false sense of alertness. When we shut down the visual and audio stimuli, we can hear our bodies crying out for more rest.
4. We get to know our own thoughts. We spend the vast majority of our days listening to other people’s thoughts and opinions—in books, on blogs, on social media, at work. Sometimes the space in our brains becomes clogged with all the voices clamoring for our attention that we forget that we have our own thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Those things are worth listening to and worth cultivating.
5. We find creativity. You know how many creative people say they have their best ideas in the shower? I truly think this is because the shower is one of the only silent spaces we have left in our lives. When we use silence to cultivate our own thoughts and dreams, combined with noticing what’s happening in our worlds, creativity sparks. Over the last few weeks, I’ve solved countless problems and thought of so many new ideas for my writing simply because I’ve let myself drive to and from work in silence. My mind has wandered and dreamed and tackled things from multiple angles, which has simultaneously birthed peace and creativity.
6. We open our hearts to prayer and contemplation. In the noticing that comes with silence, we will often stumble across issues we need to seek God on. Any other time, we might unthinkingly dismiss these and reach for our phones, but in silence, we have to face them head-on. And in the silence, we will be more open to bringing those requests and worries and questions to God, because we can’t turn to Google or text a friend.
When I first started implementing silent times and unplugged nights, it surprised me how ingrained my habits were. I found myself unconsciously reaching for my phone to check my blog stats, text a friend, or call my mom. My body and mind itched with discomfort at not knowing what was going on in the world without me. I desperately wanted to scratch my itch, just for a second, even though I knew it wouldn’t help me break these habits.
True story: I put my phone at the back of my junk drawer (and even with all my love for simple living, I’m not ashamed to admit I have one) so I wouldn’t be able to reach it without making a conscious choice to go get it. Obviously, it was still accessible, but this really helped me tune in to my habits.
Ready to give silence a try?
3 Tips on Trying Silence for Yourself
1. Pick one time each day to be silent, and start small. Wake up 5 minutes early and lay silently in bed. Choose not to listen to the radio on your way to work. Sit in silence for a few minutes when you get home.
2. Bury your distractions. During your silent time, put your phone at the back of your pantry, shut down your computer, and lock the tablet in your desk drawer.
3. Consider your purpose for silence. Do you want to fall asleep easier? Decompress after a long day? Get clarity on a problem? You definitely don’t need to set a productivity goal for silence, but remembering why you’re choosing silence can help you stay committed in the moments of testing.