Q is for Quiet
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
Why be quiet?
“We need quiet time to examine our lives openly and honestly – spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself and create order.” Susan L. Taylor
The brain is limited in its capacity to handle multi-tasking (in fact when we think we are multi-tasking we are in fact task-switching). Modern technology presents challenges the brain has not faced before therefore it is important to step outside the busyness thrown at us 24/7 from all directions creating a near-constant sensory overload. It is important to make a conscious effort to quieten our mind, giving ourselves time for contemplation and reflection so that we can recharge our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual batteries.
“The real in us is silent, the acquired is talkative” Kahlil Gibran
By constantly reacting instead of responding we lose track of what is important to us and who we are. If we don’t make creating quiet times in our day a priority, we end up in a reactive state, driven on by an artificial urgency or being bombarded with needless distractions and this hinders our ability to make considered choices and decisions and live a 100% engaged life.
“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” Francis Bacon
We are all aware of the destruction of the rainforests, the melting icecaps etc but there is a more subtle destruction going on that we often fail to notice; the destruction of our peace of mind and the loss of quality time (often swallowed up with being connected to technology rather than making connections with real people or making time for ourselves). Furthermore, constantly being overwhelmed with stimuli has a direct impact on our health. Constant exposure to noise has been associated with high levels of cortisol production (the main stress hormone), which raises blood pressure and blood sugar. Everybody needs to rest; even machines need to stop for maintenance or to be repaired.
“Quiet is peace. Tranquillity. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. All of it” Amir – The Kite Runner
We need to create a new mindset as individuals and as a society where stillness, solitude, personal reflection, self-examination or just ‘being’ etc is valued and where working on our inner self is considered as (if not more) important than our outward appearance.
“True inward quietness... is not vacancy, but stability – the steadfastness of a single purpose” Caroline Emelia Stephen
By developing an inner quietness within ourselves we build a place of stability away from all the busyness around us. The power of quietness is that when we control our minds, aided by techniques like defusion, and observe the world through the peace we create, it is possible to remain at peace in a chaotic world and see a world that reflects our own calm state of mind.
“Silence fertilises the deep place where personality grows. A life with a peaceful centre can weather all storms” Norman Vincent Peale
“Silence is sometimes the only way to share the unshareable” Ron McLarty
What are the benefits of timetabling in silence in our lives?
· Greater attention, awareness and clarity
· Improved cognitive function
· Improved creativity and reflection
· Better focus and interest in the world around us
· Better fatigue recovery and improved health
· More positive moods
To paraphrase a quote by William Penn, “True quiet is the rest for the mind. It is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment”
How can we develop an inner quiet?
Prioritise time spent in nature. The capacity of the brain to focus on a specific stimulus or task is limited and results in a state called 'directed attention fatigue'. Attention Restoration Theory was developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in 1989. It suggests that mental fatigue and concentration can be improved by time spent in, or looking at nature. As described in "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature" (Berman, Mare G et al.) ART is based on previous research that shows attention can be separated into two components:
· involuntary attention, where attention is captured by inherently intriguing or important stimuli, and
· voluntary or directed attention, where attention is directed by cognitive-control processes.
In the book "The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective" (Kaplan R,; Kaplan S) it describes a series of characteristics that an environment must have to be restorative. These are:
· Fascination: the ability of an environment to generate involuntary attention and awe which
gives our directed attention a rest
· Being away: a feeling that can be objective or subjective e.g. a person can be physically far
away from a location or they can simply let their mind move away from everyday life and
· Extension: is concerned with the connection between each element found in an environment
and the feeling of being able to travel through the environment in order to look for the
information it provides.
· Compatibility: is concerned with characteristics found in an environment that meet the
preferences and goals of a person
“Only in quietness do we possess our own minds and discover the resources of the Inner Life.” Helen Keller
Exposure to quiet natural environments encourages more effortless cognitive function, allows the brain to let down its sensory guard (i.e. give it a downtime or quiet) and replenishes its attention capacity.
Examples of restorative environments include time spent immersed in natural environments, e.g. the countryside, in forests, near the coast, in a park or even simply in the garden just taking time to be 100% present in our environment. The beauty of this is that it is open to everyone, no special equipment is necessary and there is no real cost implication. We can quieten our brains by watching water flow, a fire flickering, tress swaying, leaves blowing around watching the clouds move and reform etc
“In quietness the soul expands.” Rockwell Kent
It is even more vital in today’s technologically driven world to create time to be outside as we live in a world that increasingly demands we are inside attached to screens.
It is not possible for us to be outside all of the time therefore understanding how people respond viscerally and emotionally to nature and how such beneficial experiences can be supported inside or in industrial/urban settings is essential for supporting a healthy and vibrant society. The practice of incorporating nature and natural elements into man-made spaces to provide respite and joy is known as biophilic design and has been proven to reduce stress, enhance cognitive function and creativity and hasten healing. Emphasis is given to incorporating natural patterns into our environments. Natural patterns can be anything that visually connects us with nature, embodied in design. The Patterns or colours of textiles, tiles, wallpaper, carpet; or anything that we have sensorial contact with; that emulates the natural world, have been proven to have a beneficial influence on our health and wellbeing.
Related to the Attention Restoration Theory and the emphasis on nature is another “condition” Nature Deficit Disorder. It is not an official disorder more “a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years” Richard Louv. The term “Nature Deficit Disorder” is intended to point to a deep need: “as part of our evolutionary heritage, human beings—both children and adults—have a profound need for time in wild, outdoor spaces, and we suffer when we don’t get it” Andrew Weil
As well as immersing ourselves in nature, creating good habits and intention are key to creating effective quiet times This can be done via formal mindfulness techniques or simply just finding a quiet place and ‘breathing and being’
We are all subject to noise pollution everywhere (all background sounds in the environment) This threatens our health. Noise pollution can cause high blood pressure , stress, hearing loss, interference with our sleep patterns, disturb our concentration, our ability to communicate and even our ability to relax recreationally.
Even when we sleep it is not possible to tune out noise properly. We may be able to get used to it so we can get to sleep but that doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to hear just because we are asleep. Noises are permanently causing a stimulus to our subconscious. Our body is designed to activate the “fight or flight” response system in response to stimulus so remains on alert regardless of the state we are in because the human auditory system is designed to “process the frequencies and intensities relevant to survival in the sound environment of nature” .J C Westman
When we are constantly bombarded by noise pollution and sensory overload, this has a knock- on effect on our emotions so it is no wonder that our energy levels and ability to flourish are reduced if we do not consciously programme in some down- time and quiet away from the busyness of life.
Rather than think that quiet and solitude are wasting time, reframe your thoughts and realise the importance of quiet time spent alone even if it does feel uncomfortable. Have the intention, and follow this through, to make some time out of each and every day to find yourself in quiet and in so doing you will experience a deeper confidence in yourself and intimacy with others
“Solitude is very different from a time-out from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which the community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other” Henri Nouwen
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Do you make periods of quiet time in your day?
Where do you go to 'be quiet'?
Does silence frighten you? Do you feel a need to have a noise in the background all the time? If so, why do you think this is?
Where is your favourite restorative place?
“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” Francis Bacon.
If you want to find out more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started: