As I write this, our Mindful Approach to Living course is going on and we are getting ready for the day-long retreat – a Day of Silence. I love the idea of dedicating a “Day of Silence” on a regular basis. The course is designed to develop a habit of committing to a moment of silence, daily, through the formal practice of mindfulness – sitting in silence, focusing on our breath, and being in the here and now. It is a time that we shut off our phones, don’t let anything interrupt us, and sit, silently, intentionally focused on the here and now –perhaps by focusing on the breath, the body, or just dwelling in choiceless awareness – being aware of all that is going on in our moment. The day-long retreat is an opportunity to extend the practice of being silent for the day. It is hoped that after completing the eight-week course, participants have developed a pattern of sitting for a committed period of time, daily. It is through this process of developing the habit of sitting that we may find ourselves yearning for that “sitting” time, this time of silence as we experience coming home to ourselves over and over again.
If that isn’t enough to entice us to consider the practice of having some silence, silence apparently has more for us than the possibility of peace of mind. Studies show that silence has positive effects on our brains. Silence produces new brains cells, activates brain memory and encourages self-reflection.
(Mikel, 2016) This might not be all that surprising if you
consider that research has correlated noise levels to increased rates of sleep
lost, heart disease and tinnitus. (Gross, 2016) Other studies have
linked noise pollution with hearing loss as well.
These results of the benefits of silence surprised scientists as they were initially focusing on the effects of noise on the brain. They used various types of noises: short bursts of sound, music or white noise. The control group of mice who had two hours of silence per day showed the brain changes.
Another study found changes in the brain during the pauses between the noise –
when the environment was quiet. (Mikel, 2016) In the first study, two hours of silence per
day prompted cell development in the hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is related
to the formation of memory involving the senses. The control group of mice that had silence
showed the changes in the brain that were long-lasting. Scientists are hopeful that these findings
may lead to potential treatments for dementia or depression. But regardless, it can impact us right now in
our daily lives.
Other research findings found that people with short periods of “noiselessness” between sounds were in a more relaxed state.
(Rosca, 2016) The other side of this is that noise is
auditory stimulation and it impacts us. Noise forces our brain to listen to the
sounds and process it whether we are aware or not. Sounds waves vibrate the ear bone,
transmitting this movement to the cochlea.
The cochlea transmits this to the brain through electrical signals. The
body reacts to these signals deeply even in the midst of sleep. Research shows that sound first activates the
amygdalae, clusters of neurons in the temporal lobes which are associated with
memory formation and emotion. This
activation prompts immediate release of stress hormones such as cortisol. People who experience a consistently loud
environment, home or at work, often experience high levels of stress hormones
in their system. (Gross, 2016)
Nonetheless, we all have a lot of noise going on in our world in many different mediums. It is time to pay attention to this situation. True silence is becoming a difficult commodity to happen upon. We have to decide to make it a priority and instill quiet time into our lives. With that opportunity of silence, we are allowed the opportunity to listen to what is going on inside us and have time for self-reflection and just being with ourselves. What better gift could we give ourselves in 2017 than connecting with ourselves?
Gross, D. A. (2016, July 7). www.nautil.us/issues/30/noise/this-is-your-brain-on-silence-rp. Retrieved from www.nautilus.us.
Mikel, B. (2016, July 11). www.inc.com/betsy-mikel/your-brain-benefits-most-when-you-listen-to-absolutely-nothing-science-says.html. Retrieved from www.inc.com.
Rosca, J. (2016, July 13). http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/25132/20160713/true-silence-creates-new-brain-cells-improves-memory.htm. Retrieved from www.natureworldnews.com.