The 8-Fold Path: Why Silence?

Last week I touched on the benefits of silence. And that we don’t have a lot of silence in our daily lives. We are inundated with sound: some of our own choosing, most not. While I’m writing this, the “roar” of the forced air heating is quite significant. When it stops, there is a noticeable return to quiet for a few moments until a truck roars by on the busy county road I live just off of.

A quick search of the internet will give us dozens of reasons why silence is beneficial; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let’s take a look at a few of the physical and mental benefits daily periods of silence can give us.

THE BRAIN

Daily periods of silence can improve our brains. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that walking three times in a week for 40 minutes improved spatial memory.

If we can change our setting, we give the brain something different to focus on and correlate with known data.

Most of us live in urban or suburban settings. If possible, take a walk in a park or some other natural setting. The greater the difference between the manmade and the natural, the better for our brains. Manmade noise tends to grate on our nerves. Natural sounds are much more soothing.

Go walking — without the iPod — in a natural setting. Let the natural sounds lave you with peace and tranquility.

In addition, regular periods of silence can actually stimulate brain growth.

A 2013 study, published in Brain Structure And Function, found sitting in silence for at least two hours a day could stimulate the creation of the new brain cells related to our ability to learn, remember, and emotions.

At least two hours, you may say? Who has time for that? Indeed. We live busy lives. Although some of us may have the time and that is a wonderful thing. However if you do not, I think the 8-Fold Path can help you by giving you a lifestyle of silence.

STRESS

Almost all of us are stressed. We live in a stressful world. Noise can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones — and who wants that?

Sometimes we resort to relaxing music or white noise to try relieving the stress we feel. The problem is music, no matter how relaxing, and white noise are still noise.

Silence, on the other hand, is the anti-noise, as it were. A 2006 study, which appeared in Heart, found that just two minutes of silence can release tension buildup in the body and in the mind. That sounds like a good deal to me. After all it’s only two minutes. Surely we have that much time to give to relieving stress.

INSOMNIA

It’s the pits when you can’t get to sleep. I used to hate it when it happened to me. There was nothing left to do but get up and perhaps read for a while until I felt tired.

On the other hand, daily silence can come to the rescue.

A 2015 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found older adults who meditated had fewer episodes of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. And meditation is done in silence.

Sitting in meditation breaks the routine of busyness and noise in our lives and can break the never ending monologue our minds at times embark on.

I know from personal experience sitting in meditation and letting my mind just drift through thoughts and feelings, not focusing on anything, eventually results in my mind stopping the thought process and that’s when the stress and anxiety falls away.

SENSITIVITY

From personal experience I can tell you silence increases one’s sensitivity to outside stimuli. After a week of silence and solitude, my whole body became more sensitive. More sensitive to sounds, touch, sights, and even thoughts, my own and others. I even think my poor hearing improved for a time. At least people could speak a bit more softly, until things went back to normal.

SUMMARY

Daily practice of silence can be very beneficial, both physically and mentally. A lifestyle of silence even more so. And that’s just on the physical and mental plane.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, I believe the practice of silence, coupled with its companion solitude, can do wonders for your soul. In a sense, silence can pull you out of yourself and take you to a place where you can, even for a moment, touch that which is beyond us.

The late Canadian psychiatrist, Dr R.M. Bucke, wrote of his experience in his book Cosmic Consciousness. Dr Bucke wrote that after a wonderful evening with friends, on the long ride home, late at night, he was “in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind.” In other words, Dr Bucke was unconsciously meditating in silence. What happened next changed his life forever. Here are his words:

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life.

Those of faith will see Dr Bucke’s testimony as evidence of their beliefs. Those not of faith will possibly attribute his vision to some other cause. For myself, I see a man who was not especially religious in the span of a few moments suddenly become convinced there is something beyond himself. Dr Bucke’s experience is, however, indicative of what many mystics have found to be true: silence and solitude can connect one with the beyond.

Most of us, though, are probably seeking a more day to day benefit. And silence certainly provides that. However, as with any practice, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply want less stress and better memory, silence can help you achieve some of that. And less stress, along with better mind function, is a very good reason to start your journey into silence. And who knows where it may end.

Next time we’ll explore just exactly what is this silence I’m talking about.

Until then, take some time, each day is preferable, to just unplug and get away to a place with minimal noise. Then just let your mind drift, not focusing on anything. Let me know what you think.

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2 thoughts on “The 8-Fold Path: Why Silence?”

  1. Silence is very difficult here. Some days I miss the silence of winter when there is snow the ground. One sound here that is interesting is the ringing of a bell from a man going up and down the street. He is telling people in the homes that he is available to shine their shoes. I’ve seen one of our guards employ him to shine his shoes.

    1. The silence of winter – nothing can really match that, can it? I miss that too. Winter in suburbia isn’t the same as winter in a rural area or small town.

      There are earplugs for total silence. But sometimes just the sounds of nature or even the indigenous sounds of an area can sometimes become just part of the scene.

      The shoeshine man and his bell is so foreign here. What a fascinating bit of local color. The ringing is of course designed to get customers. Depending on the other sounds, it can also just be part of the total fabric.

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