I haven’t always enjoyed silence. In fact, I’ve spent much of my life avoiding it. It felt uncomfortable and unproductive. As a working parent, I felt compelled to be ‘doing’ something all the time and would feel guilty if we didn’t have plans or activities in place. I’ll be honest, even before I was a parent, I relished in having things to do and places to be. Silence and stillness were foreign to me.
I didn’t realize it at the time, however my worth was tied to external validation and being busy. I thought it’s what you had to do to be happy and ‘make it’. I wouldn’t brag about being busy, that felt pretentious to me, but my actions clearly revealed it. As a result of this love affair with productivity, my mind was constantly running, waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, jumping out of bed as early as possible to get stuff done and avoiding any quiet or silence. Slowing down felt selfish and lazy. Sound familiar to anyone?
It was this TedTalk from Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace that broke the cycle. I downloaded the app and tried a few exercises each week for 1-2 minutes. Slowly, mindfulness seemed less ‘woo woo’ and more practical.
That was 6 years ago. I’ve come to learn that silence is not only a good thing, it’s regenerative and essential to my well being. I’m up to 15 minutes a day of meditation now and I still need an app to guide me. I’ve got paid subscriptions to Headspace, Muse and Chopra; along with free versions of calm and insight timer. I find this variety helps and is worth every penny of investment.
When I’m consistent with the practice, I’m more creative, happier and incredibly productive in ways I never experienced before. I’ll be honest though, I still have days where I struggle to find the time and get swept up in my desire to get things done. It only takes a few skip days and I realize that giving up the silence has undesirable consequences – more stress, less connection and more frustration.
We are in difficult times right now. The pandemic has forced many of us to change, often against our will. Our activities have been restricted and the discomfort of stillness has presented itself. Or if you’re a parent of young ones, the desire for silence feels impossible.
A mindfulness practice could be a helpful consideration to strengthen your resilience. Even if it’s only 1 minute a day (locked in the bathroom), it can help. Going to the “mindfulness gym” will nurture your mind and in return a new world of being will open up. Are you up for giving it a try? Or expanding your practice? Personally, I’m working on hitting 20 minutes.
As I think back to my youth and all the new wave music I listened to, I wonder why I didn’t take the advice from Depeche Mode in ‘Enjoy the Silence’.
All I ever wanted.
All I ever needed.
I think they were on to something.
Carolyn Swora is a workplace culture architect and creator Reimagining Leadership™, a program that facilitates development in three core areas; Courage, Resilience and Belonging.