Ever feel the need to keep talking?
And you feel anxious when the conversation lulls?
Or you need music to work? Noise while you eat?
How can we practice mindfulness when we are afraid of silence?
The humming of the fans…pitter-patter of the rain…movement of the cars…whistle of the wind…chirping of the birds
How often do we experience silence?
Probably not often.
Our eyes, ears, and minds are constantly being fed. At this moment, I have the TV on with music, my phone is pinging and I’m typing on a laptop with one earbud in, editing some audio for my podcast.
The other day, we were watching our son fall asleep and his eyes were just about to stay closed when our 3-year old daughter states,
“He’s sleeping now!”
Just then, his eyes open and he starts to cry.
“That never happened to her. She had a childhood of peace and quiet. I wonder how they’ll differ as they get older and whether this lack of silence will affect him later.”
Then it got me thinking about my childhood…
Like my son, I was the youngest. I was born into noise and I grew up with noise. It’s weird to not have noise around me.
Either the TV or the radio was on (with some Chinese talk show mixed in with bursts of music). If those were off, my parents were bickering or my sisters were chatting. If people weren’t talking to each other, someone was playing the piano, talking on the phone or cleaning the house.
I am uncomfortable with silence.
When I go hiking, deep into the forest, I’ll focus my attention on the sounds of the creek rushing, twigs breaking and the gravel shuffling beneath my feet.
In a group, whenever the conversation starts to lull and the topic we were discussing slowly comes to a close and the chatter dies off, I can feel my anxiety brewing. And I’ll start to think of new topics or questions to ask, trying to prevent that awkward silence, to keep the conversation going because I want to avoid having to focus on the presence.
But why do I do that?
What’s wrong with silence?
What’s so uncomfortable about sitting around a bunch of people, not talking and just enjoying the moment?
I purposely create moments of quiet.
I am a firm believer in going outside our comfort zones in order to grow as human beings. If we keep doing the same old, same old, we become the same old, same old. We become irrelevant if we don’t evolve. Our minds continually need to be tested, pushed and shoved to places it’s never been so that it doesn’t become stagnant.
So I’ve begun to create moments of quiet to push my own boundaries.
My daughter likes me to lay with her before she goes to sleep. During those minutes in the dark, while I wait for her to fall asleep, I am silent with my thoughts. I tend to race down rabbit holes of ‘what-ifs:
What if people hate my writing?
What if my books never sell?
What if I am not good enough?
What if I’ll never be able to do this for a living?
What if I fail and I never get the courage back to do this again…and I’m stuck behind a desk, doing the 9–5 with my tail between my legs…always regretting it?
As contradicting as it seems, this is my comfort zone, a place where my worries and fears exist, threatening me to play it safe.
But then I’ll notice my daughter’s breaths and I’ll start to think about her and her future; this gives me hope, knowing I have the opportunity to influence what that will look like. It reminds me that I don’t have to let the noise pollute my mind.
When the background noises fade, the foreground shifts into focus and your thoughts become clearer. And it’s during those quiet moments when you realize this.
Socially, I’ve started challenging myself to experience the awkward transition phases during conversations, observing how others respond and not allowing my anxiety to get the best of me. I take in the environment, enjoying the silent communication, the presence, mindfully embracing the discomfort until it becomes comfortable.
So Readers, how comfortable are you with silence? When there is a break in the conversation, how do you feel?
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Niklas Wersinger on Unsplash