“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” ~Rumi
Have you noticed the silence around your neighborhood since we’ve all been asked to stay at home during the Coronavirus pandemic? Perhaps some of you, with your school children at home now, haven’t had the chance to notice just how quiet it’s become during the last few weeks. But trust me, the noise associated with the hustle and bustle of normal life in the world has calmed significantly.
Actually, the whole WORLD… the whole physical globe… has become quieter during the last few weeks! Dr. Robin George Andrews, writing for the New York Times (“Coronavirus Turns Urban Life’s Roar to Whisper on World’s Seismographs”), reported how seismographers around the world have seen the “seismically detectable heartbeat” of their cities and countries slow from the frenetic pace of everyday life to a gentle, peaceful hum. Paris has recorded a 38% drop in the average daytime noise. London, a 30% drop. Los Angeles, a whopping 50% drop! The growing silence in the world has provided seismologists an opportunity to better hear the planet’s natural tectonic soundtrack, granting them “a less distracted look into the planet’s interior.”
One need not be a seismologist to take note of the silence all around us. As I sit, writing from my front porch, gone are normal traffic noises usually present, the sounds of hammers and power tools from new construction going on, and the frequent noise of lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and power-washers. In their place, I can hear the playful chirps of a variety of birds filtering down from the trees above; the rustling of the leaves in the trees as they’re tickled by today’s gentle breeze; and, the simple, hushed conversation of a couple as they take a break from the shelter-in-place order to share a quiet stroll around the neighborhood. As Dr. Andrews wrote, “The roar of urban life has turned into a whisper all over the world.”
When Stress Strikes, Your Brainwaves Take a Hit
Seismologists say that our current world quarantine has shifted the world from “a roar to a whisper.” Psychologists might say that the same shift is occurring for the earth’s inhabitants. As the roar of outside noise has quieted, the challenge is to now quiet the noise inside… our thoughts, our worries, and our constant desire for more.
As a society, we have forgotten how to become quiet, how to become still. We are always on the move, always busy, always doing. We’ve forgotten how to just be. And, as a result, we are stressed.
Stress, a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances, causes us to become out of sync with the natural rhythms of our bodies. In the same way that noise creates abnormal and disturbing soundwaves, stress creates unhealthy brainwaves.
“My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try to never go there alone.” ~Anne Lamott
There are 4 basic types of brainwaves:
- Beta – the fully awake, engaged mind (on)
- Alpha – meditative (resting)
- Theta – twilight (resting)
- Delta – deep sleep (off)
These brainwaves can be likened to the gears of a car. It would be neither smart nor efficient to drive a car only in 1st or 4th gears, as it would put undue stress and strain on the car. Yet this is how we “drive” ourselves. We feel we should be in full “go” mode (beta) as soon as our feet hit the floor each morning, and at the end of the day, we should be able to turn the “car” off (delta) and fall right into a deep, restful sleep. The other 2 types of brain waves, those that are most fuel-efficient and least stressful on the engine, are mostly overlooked and underused.
“Without silence, we keep moving forward, not really knowing where we are or where we want to go.” ~Unknown
Alpha and theta brainwaves, those associated with smooth, peaceful, calming brain activity, are more available to us when we’re silent and still. In silence, we have an opportunity to reflect, listen, and gain new insights about ourselves and the beautiful world we live in. Silence breeds deep connection, not only to ourselves but to the world around us.
Silence creates space in our lives. It allows us to pause between moments, to process and reflect, to see beyond the surface and into the deeper parts of our being. When we cut out silence, we cheat ourselves of the fullness that life has to offer.
7 Ways to Deepen Relaxation During Your Day
Below are a few methods you can practice, to engage alpha and theta brainwaves, thereby connecting more fully with your inner self and to this amazing and miraculous world:
- Take a break from your devices. I love technology as much as anyone, but aren’t you aware, like I am, that your devices too often come between you and the world you’re in? Start out by trying to make 10% of your day smartphone-free.
- Learn to meditate. One of the biggest mistakes newcomers make when learning to meditate: thinking that the goal is to stop having thoughts. This is not true. In fact, as soon as you get quiet, your thoughts will become like an unruly child, crying out for your attention! Your “practice” is to learn to sit with those unruly thoughts… if only for 2-3 minutes at first.
- Lie in bed for a few minutes (awake) in the morning before hopping right into “go” mode. This might be much easier to do while you’re quarantined.
- Think like a smoker, but don’t smoke. I like the concept of taking a break to go outside and “have a smoke.” You can do the same thing… take a break and go outside… without the smoking part.
- Sit quietly as your coffee brews or tea steeps, focusing intently on the wonderful aroma created. In mindfulness training, this is referred to as “savoring.” The more we savor an experience, the more we create alpha and theta brainwaves.
- Listen closely to someone talk – really listening & hearing them- without thinking about what you’re going to say next.
- Believe and take it to heart when someone says everything will be O.K.
Life is about change… sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes it’s beautiful… but most of the time it’s both. While going through this difficult period in the history of our world, remember that it’s something we’re all going through together. While there are many, many challenges we all face, there are also opportunities for learning, growth, and deeper connection. Take advantage of the quiet that comes along with social distancing and cultivate a habit of connecting with your inner silence. Listen closely to what you can hear when the background noise stops. As Sufi poet, Rumi, once said, “Listen to the silence. It has so much to say.” And remember… everything really is going to be O.K.