Friday, September 11, 2015

Silence as Healing

Many of us remember exactly where we were 14 years ago when the tragic events of September 11, 2001 unfolded. I, for one, was in college and heard about it in the ladies' room, after a 90 minute chemistry class from 8am-9:30a. What I also remember about that day was the silence-the speechlessness that seemed to consume everyone. Walking across campus to my job in Academic Advisement, every individual I passed was quiet-in their own state of grief, confusion, and shock.

I was only 19-years-old, but in those quiet moments, I began to wonder how this would change us, as a nation and as individuals. When I reached the building where my office was located, the quiet was disconcerting. The only sounds came from a television rolled into the faculty lounge where everyone crowded around to watch the live coverage, all too stunned to even comment.

It was shocking to see New York City look like countries at war, ones I had learned about in class. Ones that seemed light years away from my small, egocentric, teen life. The university closed early and the ride home was solemn. I listened to the radio-every station was broadcasting live news about the events-and every car leaving the parking garage was tuned in, windows down. I was crying, as were most of the students I saw leaving campus. Then, in what I now realize was a response to my being an HSP, I turned the radio off and drove the remaining 15 minutes home, in silence.

In retrospect, it almost seemed like I was bracing myself for the onslaught of news coverage, media attention, and Internet frenzy. It was as if I had some foresight to know these might be my last few moments of silence, before being forever changed by the images I would see later in the evening. Like most Americans, I spent the rest of the evening watching news reports-absorbing every detail, every horrific story, and every traumatizing image. Silence was now a distant memory, replaced by chaos, fear, and horror. This continued for weeks, until I had reached my limit and turned off the television.

I have a clear memory of a week after the events, talking to my best friend on the phone and us both lamenting that even our beloved MTV and VH1 were airing benefits, footage, and/or stories about what was infamously being named 9/11. It wasn't that we were "over it", far from it. We were overLOADED and needed some semblance of our former lives back. What I realize now is we needed silence.

We needed the space and time to reflect and heal. I was just beginning to explore spirituality (having been cult-free for over a year) and had I begun my journey just a bit sooner, I think it would have been second nature to turn the coverage off and sit in the silence of what occurred. But, I didn't have the knowledge or know-how to do that and so, instead, I absorbed every piece of news, every personal story, every horrifying video. It should not come as a surprise that a few months later I was first officially diagnosed as having anxiety.

While I appreciate so many things about our modern technology and media, there is something to be said about allowing yourself the space and time for silence. To not worry about what you are missing or not being the first to post something on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. To be clear, I am coming from a place of complete understanding, not judgment, when I say these things. I, too, want to be involved and make an impact. I, too, want to laugh and be silly. I, too, want to know what is happening in the world the moment it happens. But, to be overwhelmed with those impulses and never give yourself time to contemplate, on your own, can be quite damaging.

So, I propose this anniversary of September 11th, make some space in your day for silence. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, without the knee-jerk reaction of drowning them out with TV, music, movies, games, news, etc. This could mean meditating, journaling, spending time in nature, making something with your hands, or just simply sitting quietly and thinking. My wish and prayer for all of us is to find peace in the smallest or largest spaces of silence we can.


Guided meditation for healing


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Silence is the New Black

I am guilty of what many of us do: fill quiet moments with unnecessary (often mundane) chatter to avoid silence. I call this "jibber jabber," (taken from the indisputably hilarious relationship of "Penny" and "Sheldon" on The Big Bang Theory).

To me, jibber jabber and small talk has become mind-numbing. It appears the more change our world sees (socially, politically, environmentally), the more obsessed with monotony some become. For example, on a day when marriage equality is achieved for the entire country AND the President of the United States attends funerals for some of the Charleston 9, I may hear two neighbors discussing, at length, how the time the mail arrives has changed over the past few months. This is just one of many examples. I have never before heard so much discussion about mail arrival, lawns that need mowing, why this restaurant opens at 11:00 versus 12:00, and so it goes. I don't mean to sound judge-y, but for real? In the words of one of my favorite comediennes and podcasters, Jen Kirkman: "I don't want to do small talk anymore, I want big talk." I am beginning to reach a point where I am interested in one of two things: big/ "medium" talk or silence. Larry David has similiar sentiments.

In this post, I am hoping to encourage all of us, myself included, to enjoy, accept, and embrace the silence, when big talk isn't possible and small talk is irritating. In graduate school for counseling, we learned silence is not only a good idea, it is essential to growth. It gives both the client and clinician the room and space to process what has already been said. In a world where it is easy, most times unavoidable, to fill every silent moment with media static and white noise, this concept may seem unconventional. I am positing that it IS unconventional and that can be good.

I, for one, am constantly inundating myself with noise. If it's not TV, it's my iPod. Or I'm watching videos on YouTube, answering e-mails and texts, while also balancing my checkbook. In fact, as I write this post it is the only silent moment I will likely have today and yet my mind is still quite stimulated. As someone who struggles daily with mental hygiene, I speculate my avoidance of silence is due to fear of the places my mind wanders when there is no stimulation. The far reaches of my mind where dark thoughts, sad memories, and fear of the future reside. On days I am particularly motivated to embrace silence, I often achieve this by still distracting my mind, just in a less noisy way-reading. While it is a much needed break from screens (unless I'm using my Kindle...), it is still distraction from silence in its truest form.


It may be obvious to some what I am suggesting: less time online, more time outside, put your phones done. And that is all true, but I am also challenging us to go a bit deeper than that. Instead of only leaving 5 minutes before bed for meditation or 10 minutes in the morning for solitude, I am advocating a Lifestyle of Active Quietude or LAQ, as in lack of distractions, lack of noise, lack of disturbance. We can all use LESS in our lives. In fact, I have designed a second blog to devote especially to this idea. New blog here!

What I am suggesting may seem radical: how does one build a lifestyle around quietude? Like any change in perspective, it will surely take time and patience. It will involve yielding to other disciplines as well, such as mindfulness, choiceless awareness, and compassionate love (all topics that will be discussed at length in my additional blog). It will also involve actively setting boundaries with myself (limit game time, limit the number of times I check Facebook, designating certain times for texting), as well as boundaries with others. Admittedly, I have a tendency to become rigid and obsessive any time I implement a plan, no matter how beneficial it is or how good my intentions are. Something I need to be mindful about. 

Some ways I hope to spend my quietude:
  • Reconnecting with a spiritual path
  • Spending more time in nature
  • Reviving new creative interests
  • Finding new hobbies
  • Enhancing meditation practices
  • Journaling
Some things I hope to learn from my quietude:
  • Patience
  • Mindfulness
  • Non-judgment
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • How to let go of all "The Stuff"
I am eager to begin my journey and grateful to have the time and space to explore my solitude to its fullest. While I am hesitant to see what lies in the quiet moments I so desperately try to drown out, I am hopeful that taking time throughout the day to be quiet, mindful, and aware will only calm my chaotic mind.