When was the last time you intentionally set aside time for silence?
Silence is steadily disappearing from our lives. In today’s modern age, we are inundated with information, content, and opinions. The number of distractions available lead many of us to wonder what a life with silence even looks like. Whether it’s a notification alerting you of a new text message, streaming services that provide a myriad of shows and movies to choose from (while allowing you to skip straight to the next episode), or simply passing the time by listening to music or a podcast while stuck in traffic, we are constantly listening to something or someone.
But where is the space in between all that sound? Have we forgotten the lost but necessary art of listening to the silence?
On especially busy days, when I find myself rushing from task to task, I often listen to podcasts to keep me learning and entertained. Listening to music in the morning gives me that jovial jolt to start the day, and podcasts keep me entertained while I run errands. My work entails a lot of listening and editing videos of people speaking, and when my husband comes home from work, we like to watch a show together. By the time I settle in for a night’s slumber, that empty quiet reminds me: This is the first time, all day, that I’m listening to silence.
And how soothing that quiet space feels. How much I’ve missed it. I imagine that, during these times, a lot of people feel this way.
Silence is becoming an increasingly unknown phenomenon for many people. And for some, silence feels scary, because the more distractions we have available, the less we want to listen to silence, and the less we listen, the more we fear it. There’s something eerie about being alone in nature with no distractions, no noise, and nothing but your thoughts to pay attention to.
When we spend time alone in silence, we are confronted with reality. We can’t push aside our fears or anxieties with the sound of a beat or someone else’s voice; we’re forced to listen to and address the life we’ve created, the thoughts that follow us. It takes courage to listen to silence.
But while silence can seem frightening, listening to the silence empowers us. Being alone in the quiet holds up a mirror to yourself and asks you to dig deeper, to look around, to soak in the present moment that is right there in front of you. In the silence, we find ourselves—bare, honest, and true. And over time, we can become accustomed to that lack of noise and discover a version of ourselves that’s less fearful of the unknown.
Without silence, we can forget to be fully present; in that state of isolated presence, we can feel deep gratitude for the simple joys in our lives. As small, seemingly insignificant things vie for our attention, begging us to notice their beauty, we’re often too busy to stop and take notice.
It’s also evident that inspiration and insight often strike when we are quiet. When we allow our minds to wander, drift off into space, and daydream, fantastical ideas emerge. Take author J.K. Rowling, for example; the idea for Harry Potter emerged while she was sitting on a train delayed by hours. This was in the 1990s, when distractions weren’t so readily available for consumption. Rowling wasn’t binging podcast episodes or watching videos on her phone; she was bored. And that boredom, that empty space, is the gateway to magical unfoldings, creative inventions, and intuitive messages.
We don’t have to be on a delayed train to carve out silence. Studies have shown that simply two minutes of silence is more relaxing than listening to music at the end of the day. Start small by finding time in your day when you can take a few minutes to breathe and notice the sounds around you. If you live in a city, go to a park or venture to a church or cathedral, empty art gallery, museum, library, or botanical garden. Even a simple stroll around your neighborhood works wonders—but leave the headphones at home.
If listening to silence begins to inspire you, work your way up a bit by doing a 24-hour digital detox one day per week—no social media, YouTube, podcasts, or streaming services. Instead, make something with your hands, get creative with a hobby or artistic pursuit, and spend time outdoors. My husband and I have technology-free nights once a week where we light candles around the house, play Rummikub (an excellent game for basking in the silence), and read books.
Silence is necessary for our daily lives, although we are often restless about rest and anxious about quiet. Having nothing to do even just for a few minutes can seem like wasted, dead time or a frustrating delay; we associate silence with emptiness because we feel we aren’t making the most of the spare time we have. But when we ignore the silent moments, we miss out on this natural component of life: the contrast between doing and not doing. The lines can become blurred: work and play, consume and refuel, on and off. When we don’t make time for silence, the sweetness of hearing nothing, we miss out on the in-betweens of life. And those in-betweens are the very best part.
Helena Woods is the creative storyteller, coach, and filmmaker behind the Simple Joys channel on YouTube, which hosts her story-driven short films on slow living, presence, and the beauty that is found within. In 2018, she left her fast-paced life in the U.S. and moved to France to live a slower life of simplicity. She is writing a book about slow living and actively writes on her blog, helenawoods.com.
This article was originally featured in Radiant Life Magazine.