women in the sunRecently, I was asked to co-facilitate a workshop with the above title. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do it. After all, I thought, what’s so great about silence? So, I did some research and was surprised at what I found.

I discovered that silence has great power to make our lives calmer and better. No matter where we live, there’s a tremendous amount of “noise” in our lives: both internal (our racing, over-analytical minds) and external (the intense, crazy world that’s all around us). How can we find some silence, or do we even want to? Are we afraid of silence? After all, what would we do with an empty space, with all that nothingness?

During November, December and early January, there is an unusual amount of external “noise” called “the holidays”. Finding silence during this time is especially helpful. It’s so easy to get lost in other people’s expectations: all the “shoulds” can make you crazy: You should buy amazing, expensive gifts. You should be happy. You should go to lots of fabulous holiday parties or you’re a loser. You should be generous. You should forgive your family for being selfish/mean/foolish. See what I mean?

All this emotional “noise” is confusing and disorienting. It’s an example of what my Buddhist meditation teachers call “monkey mind”: our mind just bounces all around from one thing to another and – as a result – our thinking often feels out-of-control. If you ever find it hard to stop worrying/analyzing when you want to fall asleep, it’s your monkey mind that’s in control.

This is where silence can be useful.

Take a moment before you read any further and define “silence” for yourself. Close your eyes and ask yourself: “What is silence for me?” Then, just listen and see what you get. Be willing to be surprised.

Done that? Okay, here are some definitions I found: peacefulness, quietude, stillness and tranquility. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, how do we get there? Consider these questions as a starting point:

When is silence easy for you and when is it difficult?

What helps you to enjoy silence and what makes it hard for you to enjoy it?

How can silence make your life better?

When you answer the questions, write the answers down in your phone or on paper, so you can come back to them later. The answers can help open the door to more – and deeper – moments of silence in your life.

Here are two ways to experiment with the power of silence that I use with my clients. Most people – no matter how hyper they are – have benefitted from these. The first one only takes a few minutes, the second one – a silent wandering – takes a bit longer:

A Quick-and-Easy Silent Meditation

Take 3 deep breaths. Enjoy them. Invite your body to relax (it just might do it!)

Check in with your emotions: notice if you’re relaxed/sad/angry/bored. Don’t judge it, just notice. This is what is often called mindfulness.

Check in with how your body feels. What do you notice? Tension anywhere? Is your body more relaxed than a moment ago? Just notice.

Check in with your thoughts: what are you thinking? Again, just be mindful (no need to change anything).

Slowly allow your eyes to open and come back to the room. Take your time.

Silent Wandering: Give yourself about half an hour to wander in silence: you can walk through a busy urban area or an open field. Wherever you choose to wander, notice what it’s like to do it in silence. Try to keep your mind silent too (that’s not so easy) and be aware of the temptation to have a goal: instead, just wander in silence.

During your wandering, you might like to bring back with you an object to represent your silence (e.g., a leaf, flower or found object). Let an object speak to you. If you are quiet enough, it will.

When you get home, put your object somewhere where you’ll see it often, so it can remind you of your silent wandering, and – perhaps – encourage you to do it again.

Let the power of silence be your teacher.