Inspiring lifestyles

The healing power of silence

drop of water

By Helen Preston, counsellor and holistic therapist

Last Christmas, my 20 year-old son bought me a book called ‘A Book of Silence’, written by Sara Maitland. In it, she explores and contemplates the silence she experienced after moving out of the city aged 40.

My son and I share a love of silence, so it was a thoughtful gift. We value silence and how it helps to calm and soothe the soul. In a world where it can often seem like a valuable commodity, it is worth taking a little time to explore silence’s healing power and seeing it for the undervalued resource it is.

Mobile devices constantly bombard us with noise. Music, podcasts, videos, phone calls – earphones in and off we go, isolated in our own little world of chosen sound.

At home, we often have the TV or radio on in the background. Or we talk for the sake of talking when there is nothing to say – and where silence could prove a more powerful and meaningful way to be present.

On the long journey driving him back to university, my son and I talk sometimes, but equally importantly we are both very comfortable being together in silence. We share our space comfortably. By way of contrast, some people I know are uncomfortable with silence and feel compelled to fill it with random streams of thought. Albeit unconsciously, they fear it.

Anyone who has listened to Eckhart Tolle will know that he uses silence or pauses to punctuate his language. I found it a little disconcerting when I first began to listen to his audio work. My mind was impatient for the next piece of information, to hear the next word and grasp the next concept.

The voice in my head judged the silences to be irritating. My conditioned mind wanted a continuous stream of noise. It took time to move beyond this situation and really ‘listen’ to both the words and the silence.

All too often we listen to respond, pass judgement or assess how what we are hearing fits with our beliefs. But if we are only prepared to listen to what we already know, we become stuck and entrenched. There is no room for new concepts or ideas. Eckhart says of silence: 

“To listen to the silence, wherever you are, is an easy and direct way of becoming present. Even if there is noise, there is always some silence underneath and in between the sounds. Listening to the silence immediately creates stillness inside you.” (page 103, ‘The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’, New World Library.)

Man in a forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Being mindful

A few years ago, I ran various relaxation and mindfulness groups for teens. During one such session, they were invited to leave their mobile phones behind for an hour and walk in silence with me to a local beauty spot. The idea was to be fully present and to observe the sights and sounds around us.

When we arrived at our destination, we would discuss our experiences. The walk was only between five and eight minutes long, but many of them found it difficult to be in silence. Some giggled, one held her hand over her mouth to remind herself not to speak, and several were unable to help themselves and spoke anyway.

One girl found it easier than the others though. She liked silence and, upon arrival at our destination, shared the fact that she had seen birds, flowers and a cat of which the others had no recollection. She had been quietly present in the moment and enjoyed the experience.

At the end of the sessions, she intimated that she now regularly took the dog for a walk to continue enjoying silence as it made her feel calm, peaceful and relaxed. Although the others initially struggled with the exercise, interestingly they also enjoyed it more than any other form of mindfulness that we practiced.

Certainly, many people find it easier to listen to a guided meditation than to feel safe and calm in silence. It takes time and practice to allow space to creep in between your thoughts, not to follow them as they pop in but just notice to them without judgment and let them pass.

Noise can be a means to help us hide from unpleasant and fearful thoughts, enabling us to avoid our feelings of vulnerability. When we take the time to listen in silence to our inner dialogue though, it is possible to make a choice.

We can either keep beating ourselves up or mindfully change that inner voice from critical and condemning to warm and comforting. ‘You’re doing your best’ is much more positive than ‘you’re an idiot’. But we all run these negative dialogues because we have learned them. It is often someone else’s voice that we hear and someone else’s opinion that we have come to believe over time.

But silence can give us time to weed the garden of our mind, declutter the dark corners in which we hold thoughts of shame and clear a space for the real beauty of our soul to flourish. Imperfection, suffering, making mistakes, failing and feeling inadequate are all part of the human experience. So take a deep breath and listen to the silence, allow it in and become friends with it.

When working with clients, my role as a counsellor is mostly to listen. I listen to the words and the emotions, but also to the silence. Just holding that silence for a few seconds longer than normal can give people the space to access memories, thoughts and images, enabling them to unearth something of significance that would otherwise be lost. And that really is the magic of the healing power of silence.

Helen Preston

Helen Preston is a counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner. Her approach to therapy acknowledges the crucial inter-relationship of mind, body and spirit. Helen is a member of the National Counselling Society and has an Advanced Diploma in psychotherapy and counselling, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy and an EFT Master Practitioner certificate. 

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Inspiring lifestyles

Three reasons why parental wellbeing is vital to children

family of three lying on bed showing feet while covered with yellow blanket
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.

Although you may not realise it, your health and wellbeing as a parent are really important to the health and wellbeing of your children. Here’s why:

1. We regularly undergo sensory overload

Parenting today is more challenging than it has ever been. We are constantly exposed to a tidal wave of conflicting advice and are under pressure to be perfect homemakers, while often working full- or part-time into the bargain.

But we are also constantly processing sensory information from the world around us, sifting through it at a rapid pace, discarding what is insignificant and attending to our top priorities. It is about engaging with our surroundings, whether virtual or physical, and we do it during most of our waking life. As a result, we tend to place little value on those unstructured periods of internal focus such as day-dreaming.

The problem with this situation is that an overemphasis on the external can lead to sensory overload and a chronic neglect of our own wellbeing as well as that of our children. We zip along feeling fine, but because we spend little, or no, time listening to our own internal voice, we fail to notice that we are filling up with frustration, intolerance, anger and sadness – until it all gets too much and we end up feeling depressed or anxious.

So now more than ever it is crucial to find opportunities for solitude and give ourselves time to reflect, daydream and just simply to be quiet so we can hear the voice within that is so often drowned out.

So make a point of scheduling moments to enjoy a bit of silence. Here are some tips for making quiet time part of your daily routine at home:

  • Choose a time of day that works for everyone in your family (if possible) i.e. if you have school-age children, a good time may be just after they have had a snack but before they start their homework. For younger children, between bath time and bed time may work better;
  • Decide on a short chunk of time, say five minutes, and work up to more if it suits you, but do ensure it is achievable for your family;
  • Involve your children when planning how to spend your quiet time. Would they like to try a meditation (see the Relax Kids website for lots of guided meditations for kids and adults)? Would they rather listen to music? Could you even make a corner of your home into a Relaxation Zone?
  • Invite your children to chat about anything that arose for them during their quiet time. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to connect and find out what’s going on for them;
  • Some children may like to keep a diary during, or just after, their quiet time in order to help them process their feelings and experience.

 

light sunset people water
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

2. Children learn by watching what we do not what we say

As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. So the most effective way to teach our children how to make wellbeing a lifelong habit is to model this behaviour for them now.

But this is far easier said than done as it means taking a hard, honest look at our own wellbeing habits and assessing where we can make changes in order to provide the example we would like our kids to follow. Here are some examples of where we, as parents, often overlook our own wellbeing by:

  • Being socially isolated and failing to ensure we have adequate emotional and practical support around us;
  • Ignoring our own needs for developing a creative outlet;
  • Consistently making ourselves the lowest priority, overlooking the importance of self-care and failing to meet our own health and wellbeing requirements;
  • Feeling unable to express ourselves authentically and without judging ourselves;
  • Denying our parental intuition due to external pressures;
  • Overstimulation from input such as social media, the news etc.

The idea is that if you explicitly attend to your own wellbeing, your children will follow suit and grow up doing the same.

3. Awareness is Key

When we begin to proactively manage our own wellbeing, tune the world out and tune in to ourselves, we naturally become more self-aware. I am not talking here about critical self-judgement, which is about analysing our own behaviour and giving ourselves a hard time about it.

Instead I am talking about taking a step back and assuming the role of observer in order to look at what you are doing in an objective way. The aim here is to find ways to effect the positive changes necessary to improve you and your children’s wellbeing.

So, for example, if you missed the deadline for signing up for that Zumba class again, rather than downplaying it as an oversight or memory lapse, it might make sense to dig a little deeper. Perhaps the real reason you did not sign up for it is because you do not actually like dancing and, deep down, would prefer to sign up for a painting class to get in touch with your creative side.

Despite being a trivial example, it does serve to illustrate how it is all too easy to undervalue wellbeing and thus unconsciously communicate this attitude to your children.

But awareness can also offer a different perspective when facing challenges with our children that may have a direct impact on their wellbeing. For example, realising that I felt the need to control what my son ate had a huge impact on my behaviour at mealtimes, which in turn affected his eating habits – for the better.

Sometimes coming to such awareness can take effort and be uncomfortable and challenging. But with such awareness comes objectivity and, with objectivity, we can start to parent in a way that truly puts the wellbeing of our children front and centre.

In other words, cultivating awareness is at the very heart of wellbeing. It is what allows us to be conscious that we would love to try painting, for example. And the great thing is that, as we cultivate our own wellbeing, our awareness develops in tandem. This means that our wellbeing improves still further, and accordingly, that of our children, in a truly virtuous circle.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.