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Silence: an Essential Mindfulness Ingredient

You want to be more mindful to reduce negative emotions like stress, anxiety, worry, and panic. But finding time for long meditative sessions can be a challenge, and silence is too difficult.

What if there was an easier way to incorporate mindfulness into your day?

In this blog, I will share a simple but essential mindfulness ingredient: incorporating small moments of silence into your daily routine. Doing so lets you practice feeling safe and reduce your negative emotional experiences. These small moments of mindful silence and solitude will help you to feel more calm, confident, and connected.

Jump to a section:

  • the power of silence

  • the danger of silence

  • mindfulness in small moments

  • feeling safe through mindfulness

  • practical tips for incorporating silence


“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” -Rumi

Silence is essential for mindfulness.

Silence is a powerful tool. Silence offers a much-needed break in a world filled with constant noise and stimulation. It allows us to pause, to breathe, and to simply be. In these quiet moments, we can truly tune into our bodies and our surroundings, practicing mindfulness in its purest form.

The natural condition of life is silence. Before technology and bustling cities, silence must have been ever-present. Of course, there were sounds of neighbors, animals, trees in the wind, and more. But underneath that was a constant and steady stream of accessible silence.

The silence was a friend. When noise disrupted the silence, our bodies neurocepted the sound as safety or danger. The crack of a twig behind us alerted us to possible danger. The low deep rumble in the distance signaled an avalanche. The squawking of birds indicated a predator was near.

Silence and survival went hand in hand.


“The world's continual breathing is what we hear and call silence.” -Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.


silence-cloudy-walk


How noise disrupts mindfulness.

True and natural silence is something we probably cannot access day to day. Check your level of silence right now. What do you hear? It may be quiet, but I doubt there is actual silence. You likely hear people in the background, traffic in the distance, or the hums of fluorescent lights or a refrigerator.

Silence still exists, but we are effectively cut off from it. And in place of the stillness of friendly silence, we are left with the unease of unrelenting sound.


Noise can lead to sympathetic activation.

You may not be aware of it, but your body probably is constantly in some level of sympathetic activation. The sympathetic system is responsible for your body's ability to mobilize. You use mobilization for playing and dancing when safe. But the sympathetic system can also be used for running and fighting when in danger.

Being in a state of sympathetic activation doesn't mean you're actually running away or fighting something. Likely, you feel this constant activation through emotions such as:

  • stress

  • anxiety

  • anger

  • overwhelm

Noise can trigger our sympathetic state. Think of a time when someone scared you by yelling "BOO!" Your body likely tensed up in a freeze state. Part of freeze activation is flight/fight, but along with immobility of shutdown. Another example is music. Music can trigger our mobilization state, resulting in dance or tapping your foot in rhythm.

Constant background noise has the same impact - it mobilizes us, though probably just a little. But it may be enough to notice. This constant mobilization is likely felt as stress, general unease, or even anxiety.


silent-cabin

Silence & Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to attune to the present moment. Mindfulness leads to connection with the external environment and your internal world. Mindfulness and connection go together.

But in order to get to mindfulness and connection, you need to exist in literal external safety. From external safety, there is a chance to exist in your body's neurophysiological state of safety. These ventral vagal pathways are responsible for your ability to connect and socially engage.


Silence *can* lead to safety.

If you're mobilized in danger, you won't be able to access your safety state. So the unrelenting noise surrounding you decreases your chances of existing in your safety state.

One possible solution to this problem is to decrease the noise around you. You can control some things, like your phone, speakers, TVs, computers, and so on. Some things you cannot control, like the traffic in the background. And while you can unplug your fridge, I don't recommend it.

Reducing the noise around you can help you to reconnect with your natural friend of silence.


“The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence.” -Marianne Moore

Silence can also lead to danger.

However, silence can also be an uncomfortable experience for many, especially if stuck in a traumatized state. Silence can feel very unsafe if someone is stuck in a state of flight/fight or freeze. Instead, they often prefer noise, something for their ear to focus on to remind them they are not actually in danger. Here are examples of noises that may help traumatized individuals to feel calmer:

  • white noise

  • music

  • tv on in the background

  • ASMR

These noises may help calm their defensive activation but don't solve the problem. These are aids, not solutions.

The problem is defensive state activation, not silence. But silence forces this individual to feel their emotional dysregulation without the distraction and reassurance of sound to focus on. Silence may be too much for them.

The problem is being stuck in a defensive state. The goal is to lower the defensive state activation. The solution is to increase safety state activation. And the tool to do so is mindfulness.


silence-on-a-row-boat

Feeling Safe Through Mindfulness

When we practice mindfulness, we're not just being present – we're cultivating a sense of safety and exercising the ventral vagal biological pathways of safety. Over time, the pathways can be strong enough to tolerate even high levels of defensive activation.

Being mindful of defensive activation like anxiety and fear is probably too much to ask. Instead, be mindful of safety state activation when it is present.

You will notice your safety state is active because you'll feel more connected to the present moment. Your breath will be easier, into your belly, and relaxed.

For now, practice being mindful with sound that you find soothing. As you practice being mindful with sound, you will eventually be able to practice doing so without sound.


Silent Mindfulness in Small Moments

To aid you in reconnecting with silence, practice small moments of silent mindfulness. Don't challenge yourself to 10 minutes of silence. Stick with like 30 seconds. If that's tolerable, extend it if you like.

Mindfulness doesn't require a meditation cushion or an hour of spare time. It can be practiced in small moments throughout your day. You can be mindful of what it's like to fold laundry, wash your hands, play with your kids, or pull weeds. All of these have experiences that you can pay more attention to.

Whether you're sipping your morning coffee, taking a short walk, or simply sitting quietly for a few minutes, these moments of silence can become powerful mindfulness practices.


“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” -Virginia Woolf, The Waves

coffee-cup-in-sunset


Practical Tips for Incorporating Silence

Incorporating silence into your daily routine doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some possibilities:

  • Start your day with five minutes of silence before reaching for your phone.

  • Take short silent breaks throughout your day, even if it's just for a minute or two.

  • Use movement with your mindfulness and take walks in silence.

  • Practice mindful eating by eating your meals in silence, focusing on the taste and texture of your food with a breath in between bites.

  • Before bed, spend a few minutes in silence, using your imagination to anchor in safety.

  • Use noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones to dampen sound if needed.


How I Use Silence Every Morning

My morning routine currently involves lots of silence. Well, as long as I am up before my wife and children.

I wake up by 6 am and begin my routine to prepare for work. During the school year, I'll get up at 5:30 to ensure quiet time before the kids are up and lunches must be packed.

I do my morning work prep in silence. No phone usage, no screens, no music. I let things be as quiet as they naturally can be.

I listen to what my body needs in the quiet. I follow the small pushes and pulls that my body experiences, even with trivial things. I drink coffee or water based on what my body is saying it needs. I sit where it feels right, like on the couch or the deck in the backyard. I read or sit quietly and reflect. I do a short meditation if it feels right.

While packing my lunch or eating breakfast, I notice the small things. The textures of the english muffin, the smell of the jelly I am spreading, and the sound of the zipper of my lunch bag. I try to slow down and let every moment exist independently, each with its tiny experiential opportunities.

My quiet mornings go for about 90 minutes until I leave for work. At that point, I drive to work with whatever feels right. I typically want either more silence or music. Lately, I have been listening to heavy metal on the way to work as more sympathetic energy has flavored my system.

One of my Stucknaut Collective community members called this a "calm and restorative" morning routine, and I agree.


“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

woman-wading-in-silent-marsh


Take the Next Step Towards Mindfulness with Total Access Membership

Are you ready to dive deeper into mindfulness and inner peace, even in silence? The Total Access Membership is designed just for you. As a member, you'll gain access to a wealth of resources, including trauma recovery courses, an exclusive podcast, a private community, and twice-monthly Q&A Meetups.

Don't let the noise of the world drown out your inner peace. Join the community of like-minded individuals and start your journey towards a more mindful, balanced life today.


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Do you trust in your power to self-regulate?

woman meditating in flower field

Your body is compelled to self-regulate, but trauma stops this process. Do you trust that you have the innate power to self-regulate, release your trauma, and live more calmly, confidently, and connected?

 

Q&A

Q: What is the power of silence?

A: Silence is a powerful tool that offers a break from the constant noise and stimulation of the world. It allows us to pause, breathe, and simply be, helping us practice mindfulness in its purest form.

Q: How can noise negatively affect us?

A: Constant noise can lead to a state of chronic stress and anxiety, as our bodies remain in a state of constant alert. This can be felt as stress, general unease, or even anxiety.

Q: How can we incorporate silence into our daily routine?

A: Incorporating silence into our daily routine can be as simple as starting the day with five minutes of silence, taking short silent breaks throughout the day, practicing mindful eating in silence, and spending a few minutes in silence before bed.

 

Quotes from this Blog

Silence is a powerful tool. It offers a much-needed break in a world filled with constant noise and stimulation.
Mindfulness is the ability to attune to the present moment. Mindfulness leads to connection with the external environment and your internal world.
Incorporating silence into your daily routine doesn't have to be complicated. It's about finding small moments throughout your day to simply be.
 

Author Bio:

Justin Sunseri is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Coach specializing in trauma relief. He hosts the Stuck Not Broken podcast and is the author of the book Trauma & the Polyvagal Paradigm. Justin is a member of the Polyvagal Institute's Editorial Board.

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