Hello again! In my earlier post, SilencING the Self: Religion and Spirituality, I talked about the idea of contemplative or meditative silence as a powerful tool that adds insight and wisdom. It allows us to feel a connection with the Present/Universe/Divine and it protects our Self. In this post I will give you evidence from science, which shows that adding silence to our lives is beneficial to our physical and mental health.
In the process of my research, I had a very interesting conversation with a friend and a Doctoral Candidate in Nuclear Physics at the University of Illinois, Mr. Bryan Dannowitz on silence. I called him to ask him what he thought the role of silence was in physics. He responded by asking me, “Well, what do you mean by silence?” He asked me if I was talking about the mere absence, or, if I was talking about absolute silence, which is when there are no vibrations of any frequencies being transmitted.
Turns out absolute silence is not possible in nature, because even the smallest, most insignificant piece of matter in this universe has energy. This means that this and every other piece of matter in the Universe, which has some energy, is resonating or vibrating to even keep up its current position and form. To the best of my understanding of his explanation, there is no such thing as zero energy (which is the only time absolute silence is possible) in the Universe.
It blew my mind in a very profound way, but I digress. This post is not about absolute silence. I will talk about absolute silence in a future post. In this post, I am talking about the contemplative, meditative silence that allows us to reach into our self, be introspective, and organize our cluttered mind; the kind of silence that lets us get in touch with ourselves, our bodies, and our minds, so that we may live healthier, better balanced and ultimately more successful lives.
Silence and its effect on the Self in the Environment
On a very fundamental global level, and in a very basic yet profound way, we see the impact of the lack of silence all around us. We have changed, moved or eradicated entire eco-systems and species in one fell swoop in the last century. Everything man invented consumed more energy, got progressively louder and more harmful to the environment. As cities grew, got simultaneously denser and larger in area, noise and other types of pollution spread until only the most rural and/or self-imposed areas of the world are left as islands of silence.
It has only been since the Global Warming phenomenon became an absolute reality, that some of us are now becoming more environmentally conscious and are starting to notice the utter lack of silence in our world. It is finally obvious that noise (or the lack of peaceful silence that allows for introspection) has become a world-wide health issue, and the problems it causes can range from the physical, to the psychological, to the intellectual and even emotional aspects of life.
The Impact of Silence in the Self in Medicine
In the last two decades, the medical sciences have spent much of their time, efforts and energies in researching the impact that silence may have on health, fitness and the physical well-being of human beings. In medicine, silent contemplation or meditation is:
“a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth”
Ear, Nose and Throat specialists have reported an alarming increase in the number of tinnitus cases per year, as global noise levels have increased. Research from other fields of medicine also shows an increase in stress levels as there is greater noise in the environment.
So, how do we combat this? Almost every field of general medicine, palliative medicine, alternative medicine, and nursing has research showing that periods of contemplative silence during any treatment or recovery process are a major reason in the decrease of several physical and mental diseases and disorders. A very short list of health problems that may be alleviated by contemplative silence include cardiac and cardiovascular issues, blood pressure problems, post-surgical trauma issues, and weight management issues. Contemplative or meditative silence, or other similar forms of relaxation have also been associated with decreased health care costs and a higher quality of life.
The Impact of Silence in the Self on the Mind – Perspectives from the Psychology.
Silence is a critical element in almost all fields of psychology involved in therapy, health or wellness. Psychology, according to author Kenneth J. Green, is actually the only science in which we are able to use silence to get to very personal and deep information that no one else but “the Self” knows. As seen in the graph below, increasing mental silence has a positive effect on mental health, and decreasing mental silence has a negative effect.
People receiving therapy in the mental health field often say that the most effective and successful sessions for them are those with periods of silence mixed in with conversations with the therapist. These periods of silence allow both the patient and therapist to reflect on the conversation and come up with questions, or meaningful insights which may help in the recovery process.
This kind of silence is also called situational silence. While it is more prevalent in some cultures, it generally occurs in instances where people stay silent not because they are uncomfortable or uninterested. Instead they use this silence and contemplation to bring greater awareness of issues that might be plaguing them mentally. This situational silence, is actually enforced as a therapeutic tool in Japanese psychology, as integral and important as the conversations that also take place. Completely silent mindfulness is also used as a technique to help self-regulate chronic pain issues, and in reducing physical and emotional symptoms in non-pain related stress disorders, anxiety disorders and psychosomatic problems.
Even practitioners in the more “modern” or “Western” fields of psychology such as Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology teach people silent techniques. These techniques are meant to separate internal core values and beliefs from the automatic yet irrational negative, self-doubting, self-sabotaging mood spirals that inflict almost all of us occasionally. Whether we are going through a crisis or trauma, or are faced with different types of decision-making, or even (and especially) when we are subjected to external judgments for personal or professional reasons, we all have times when our minds get too crowded.
These techniques ultimately help us recreate rational thought processes which allow for a more balanced, sane perspective of our lives. Some studies have even claimed to show improved attention and self-regulation, improved stress reactions, decreased cortisol levels and increased immune system functioning after just five days of such integrated therapy techniques!
Final Word about Silence in the Self.
Ultimately, Silence in the Self will physically and mentally help us at least curb, if not quell, our demons.In this crazy paced world, there are all kinds of temptations around every corner, and on the internet. When we get these temptations and impulses or judgments from the world, just being silent for a few minutes and contemplating the pros and cons of the situation can do wonders for our health, wellness, and often times even fitness! The sooner we realize this power of silence, and the sooner we harness this power, the less number of regrettable decisions we will have in our lives.
So the next time you face a potentially regrettable situation (Should I buy that dress? Should I get that new bag? Should I get a tattoo? Should I date this person? Should I marry this person? Should I give in to my friends and drink? Should I get the extra-large combo?), just give yourself a few minutes of silence. If you need to, walk away. Go to the bathroom or outside, somewhere quiet. Spend that time thinking about how your decision in that moment will impact your health in all aspects, your future stress levels, your ego, your happiness, your mental stability and your overall sense of wellness. Then make your decision.
If you choose to say “Yes” and continue into the situation, then you’ll go in with the peace of mind that you have truly and completely thought about it. If you choose to say “No” and walk away from the situation, then you know that this decision helped you improve your Self.