Seek out silence for a healthful, healing experience

With all the braying lately about who we are
putting on the $20 bill and who can pee in what
bathroom, I’ve been searching for some peace
and quiet these days. It’s amazing what human
beings can get their undies in a bundle about,
and sometimes they go out of their way to find
new ways to tie that knot.

I have to admit, sometimes I get taken up in
the chaos. I’ve been trying to notice and disengage
as soon as I’m aware. Like the old line
from the movie “War Games,” “Sometimes the
winning move is not to play.”

I’ve always been impressed by the simple
wisdom of that line and over the years, it’s been
a very helpful precept for me. As I get older, I
find letting go a lot easier. I find myself seeking
out the quiet, and a place where my thoughts
can settle.

I’m a firm believer in the concept that there
should still be times where you simply cannot
be reached. The thing is, it’s up to us to create
those spaces in our schedule. Telephones should
not be taken into the bathroom. They also don’t
need to go along on walks, to the park, on a date,
or to dinner.

Remember answering machines? They were
a good thing. Leave a message, I’ll get back
to you. Almost nothing is ever that pressing
that someone can’t leave a message that can be
returned later. We need to reclaim our freedom
from the cellphone ball-and-chain.

I was walking to work the other day enjoying
the morning and all its sounds and sensations
when I passed a young woman with her head
down, eyes on the phone. I had to resist the urge
to say, “PUT THE PHONE DOWN” to her. I’m
thinking about getting it printed on a T-shirt so I
can walk around in it, in situations where people
are missing all the good stuff because they are
too involved with their phone … but then again
if it’s on my shirt and not in their phone, they’ll
never get the message, will they?

I feel sorry for this phone generation. They
don’t know how to unplug, put the phone down,
and enjoy their children, their guests, conversation,
or simply sitting still with their thoughts.
I’m guilty of this as well from time to time, but
more often than not I find myself completely
ditching electronics for entire evenings and not
really missing it.

Did you know that silence can actually grow
brain cells? When sought on a regular basis, it
can. The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating
information during silence. Quiet time
allows your consciousness to process things,
so it’s a good idea to go silent once in a while
and let the brain do its thing. Herman Melville
once wrote, “All profound things and emotions
of things are preceded and attended by silence.”
It’s probably why we get some of our best ideas
in the shower.

Silence relieves stress and tension. In fact, the
brain is affected by sound even while you’re
asleep. This translates to the brain as stress
though, and if you live in a constantly noisy
environment, your brain never really gets to
truly rest.

Silence has been proven to be even more
relaxing than music, which is a bit of a surprise.
Periods of silence can help with reading attention,
memory and problem solving. Silence is a
pretty amazing therapy, and it’s becoming a rare
commodity.

Sometimes silence happens accidentally. A
few weeks ago the weather was terrible – it was
a cold, gray day, and rain was imminent. But
it was the weekend, and we always do the dog
park on the weekend, so I bundled up and off
we went.

Not surprisingly, we were the only ones there.
I didn’t mind at all, because walking around
the park alone is pretty zen-like for me. I was
dressed for the weather so we could stay as long
as my pup wanted.

I did what I normally do, which is simply
follow her wherever she wants to go. This day
she took the path along the fence, and merrily
bounced along ahead of me, periodically stopping
to look back and check on me, to make sure
she hadn’t lost me.

At one point we walked past a large pile of
brush made of broken branches from a large
tree that had recently fallen. I didn’t really think
much about it until I noticed that my dog was
having a ball with it. She likes mousies, and I’m
pretty sure she was trying to catch one. However,
she’s a big girl and mousies can get into a
lot of places she can’t. Still, she sniffed, dug, and
circled the pile of brush with great enthusiasm
and determination.

She played like this for what I guess was about
45 minutes, jumping over and diving under
branches in pursuit of an unseen antagonist. I
just stood there, looking on in the rainy sleet,
delighted with her silly antics. For me, it was
like watching a child play on a playground. At
one point she appeared stuck and looked to me
for some assistance.

I laughed and explained that I was sorry, but
she was on her own getting out of that spot. She
seemed to understand, and immediately shifted
into reverse, backing out with little problem.

It was such a happy time, watching her play.
I was in the moment and not thinking of anything
else at that point. Not the weather, not the
groceries, not the bills, the taxes, tomorrow, last
week or a crappy conversation I had with somebody
several months ago. I’m not really sure
how long we even played at the park that day, as
I didn’t have my phone with me and didn’t look
at the clock before or after we were there.

It was a great afternoon. The dog playing in the
brush was in her own kind of zen, and watching
her, I was in another. Just being with each other
and enjoying the simplicity of companionship in
that moment. The stillness and the silence was a
wonderful, good and healing moment, and it put
everything in perspective for me.

After spending all that time growing my brain,
I’ve come to a conclusion … for the record, I
don’t really care who is peeing next to me in the
ladies’ bathroom, and I also think SpongeBob
would be a great idea for the 20.

Originally published April 29, 2016

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