It’s amazing how tuned-out you can become to the motor of an air-conditioner or refrigerator — the sudden silence is a startling reprieve. The buzz of our technology-saturated world has the same effect; smartphone users check their devices every 6.5 minutes, which works out to around 150 times a day. Silence is replaced with a cacophony of communication, and solitude is replaced with social media.
When you disconnect, you realize how ‘noisy’ life has become. Making daily time for silence and solitude comes with many great benefits. Here are ten:
1. Bypassing Burnout
Too often, our culture assigns self-worth with productivity; the rat-race is a one-way ticket to burnout.
Solitude allows for a break from the tyrant of productivity. And rather than being in opposition, doing nothing helps with doing a lot. Companies that have created spaces for employees to find solitude and to meditate have resulted in improved productivity levels. Solitude breaks will do the same for you. Take a few deep breaths; find the sweet spot in a work-rest ratio.
2. Heightened Sensitivity
For many, attempting ten days of silence would be attempting to walk on water. Vipassana silent retreats are exactly that; participants are instructed to refrain from speaking, and even reading, writing, or eye contact.
One hundred scientists on one retreat for research noted that shutting off the faculty of speech heightens awareness in other areas. It starts with a heightened sensitivity on your own breath, and then that focus and sensitivity is transferred to sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, intentions, and emotions.
Ten days of silence is an elephant of a task, but making just ten minutes of silence each day will have benefits.
3. Dissolving Tomorrow’s Troubles
Alan Watts argues that our frustration and anxiety is rooted in disconnection — living in the future, which is abstract and hypothetical.
Silence brings your awareness back to the present — where experiences of joy and happiness are most concrete. The mind wanders and makes predictions based off your memories. These hypothetical situations seem so real to the mind, and can cause unnecessary stress. Pulling your mind back into the present short-circuits the stress.
Living in the present doesn’t mean disregarding your future, in fact, it is the one true state that can impact your future. When your mind starts drifting toward unhelpful hypotheticals, silence and solitude pulls you out and immerses you back in the present.
4. Improves Memory
Combining solitude with a walk in nature will stimulate the hippocampus region of your brain, resulting in better memory.
Evolutionists explain that being in nature sparks your spatial memory, as it did when our ancestors went hunting — remembering where food and predators lay was essential for survival. Taking a walk alone gives the brain uninterrupted focus and helps with memory consolidation.
5. Strengthens Intention & Action
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal says during silence, the mind is best able to cultivate a form of mindful intention that motivates you to take action.
Intentional silence puts you in a state of mental reflection and disengages your intellectual mind. At that point McGonigal says to ask yourself three questions:
- If anything were possible, what would I welcome or create in my life?
- When I’m feeling most courageous and inspired, what do I want to offer the world?
- When I’m honest about how I suffer, what do I want to make peace with?
Removing that critical mind allows the imagination to build a strong subconscious intention that will fuel your goals. McGonigal explains, “When you approach the practice of figuring this stuff out in that way, you start to get images and memories and ideas that are different than if you tried to answer those questions intellectually.”
6. Increases Self-Awareness
Visceral reactions often come with regret — when you’re completely governed by actions, and absent of reasonable thought.
In silence, you make room for the self-awareness to be in control of your actions, rather than under their control. The break from external voices puts you in tune with your inner voices — and it’s those inner voices that drive our actions. Awareness leads to control.
Practice becoming an observer of your thoughts. The human will is strengthened whenever we choose not to respond to every actionable thought.
The brain is the most complex and powerful organ, and like your muscles, it benefits from rest. UCLA research showed that setting aside regular time to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the “folding” of the cortex and boosts your ability to process information.
Carving out as little as 10 minutes to sit in your car and visualize a peaceful scenery (rainforest, snow-falling, beach) will thicken grey matter in your brain.
8. “A-Ha” Moments
The creative process includes a crucial stage called incubation, where all the ideas you’ve been exposed to meet, mingle, marinate — and then produces a eureka or “A-ha” moment.
What’s the secret to incubation? Nothing. Literally. Disengage from the work at hand, and take a rest. It will also help you with any mental blocks.
‘Useless’ daydreaming is now being seen as an essential creative experience. Professor Jonathan Schooler from UC Santa Barbara says, “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain.”
9. Mastering Discomfort
Just when you’ve found a quiet place to sit alone and reflect, an itch will beckon to be scratched. Meditation teachers will encourage you to refrain, and breath into the experience until it passes. Along with bringing your mind back from distracting thoughts and to your breathing, these practices during silence and solitude work to build greater self-discipline.
10. Emotional Cleansing
Your fight/flight mechanism causes you to flee not only from physical difficulties but also emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia.
Strategies to release emotional turbulence include sitting in silence and thinking in detail about what triggered your negative emotions. The key is to do so as an observer — stepping outside of yourself as if you’re reporting for a newspaper. It’s a visualization technique used by psychotherapists to detach a person from their emotions, which allows you to process an experience objectively and rationally.