Noise is bad for us, it’s official. The World Health Organisation has concluded that every person in Europe is losing one day per year of healthy life due to noise. Living in a consistently noisy environment creates extremely high levels of harmful stress hormones – night and day. Data also shows that excessive noise is the root cause of 3,000 heart disease deaths per year. It seems that silence is indeed golden…
Silence is golden. Monks live most of their lives in silence, and don’t they just radiate peace. Walk with me, released earlier this year, is a cinematic journey with Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh into the world of his monastic community at The Plum Village in France and is a testament to silence – wonderfully peaceful to watch. Every half hour the ‘bells of mindfulness’ sound, everyone stops their activities and brings their awareness to their breathing, just for a few minutes. That’s all it takes.
‘Silence is comforting, nourishing and cosy,’ writes the author, yoga teacher and editor Azriel Re’Shel in her article on science and silence. ‘It opens up to inspiration, and nurtures the mind, body and spirit.’ At the same time the madness of noise drowns our creativity and our inner connection: ‘Studies show that noise has a powerful physical effect on our brain causing elevated levels of stress hormones. Sounds travel to the brain as electrical signals via the ear.’ And these stress hormones are even released when we are sleeping.
Yet how often do you experience total silence? Silence is considered awkward, embarrassing or uncomfortable – among people at a party, for example, when not sure what to say next, or among a group of strangers in a lift. Journalists use silence as an interview technique: pause before asking the next question, and the interviewee will almost always leap in to fill that silence, often providing the best quotes in the interview.
On the other hand, there is the silence that consoles: the silence of a sleeping child, the stillness of mountains or the tranquility of a church.
It is a challenge today for people to find silence in our urban life. Try it… five minutes sitting on your own in silence. Aaaah! You’ll be lengthening your life.
Lis Horwich, empowerment coach