Silence can be a valuable improvement tool. As a spiritual life coach I have to frequently remind myself and my clients of the value of silence. It is easy to become so focused on goals, actions plans, to do lists, and activities that we forget to pause and take care of ourselves. Listed below are nine situations where silence can be useful.
1. When you are listening. Are you truly present to the other person when you have a conversation? Or are you already planning what you are going to say next? Or worse, thinking of something unrelated?
2. When you are speaking. Sometimes it is valuable to pause slightly after you have made a point. The silence allows you make sure that the person you are talking with is following along. If you are going to say something negative, a brief silence will help ensure that your words will be a response not a reaction.
3. When you are about to say something negative. If what you are about to say is truthful, kind, and useful, then say it; if not, silence is best. At work we started a practice that if you were about to say something negative, you had to pause quietly and raise your hand. If you felt that being negative was needed then you were free to say what was on your mind. The physical act of raising our hands helped us become more focused on what we were about to say. It was amazing how quickly the environment at work improved.
4. When you need to rest. Silence allows you to enter a deeper state of relaxation. As you switch from doing to being you will notice your breath and heart rate slowing down and your body returning to balance.
5. When you are overwhelmed. Thoughts have a physical effect on your body. Silence will provide you with an opportunity to calm your thoughts and lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.
6. When the answer to a problem can only be found within you. When faced with a problem we often run off to other people to find out what we should do. Silence can allow your unconscious to provide you with a solution that is best for you instead of what somebody else thinks is best for you.
7. When you need to face yourself. We often use noise as a distraction so that we don’t have to face some emotional or physical struggle within ourselves. These struggles will get progressively louder until we deal with them. I know of one lady whose body was signaling her that she was sick. She was convinced that she had cancer. Instead of seeking medical help she surrounded herself with increasingly more distractions until she could not put off going to the doctor. Unfortunately she did have cancer and it was so far along when she finally went to the doctor that there was nothing the doctor could do about it. She died soon after.
8. When you need to focus. Silencing your mind for a few minutes before starting an activity will provide you with more focus.
9. When you pray. Too often our prayer life can be so focused on telling God what we want that we forget to listen to God. Silence in prayer allows us to receive God’s answer. How God speaks to us varies based on our particular situation. Below is a quote from Thomas Merton:
The root of prayer is interior silence. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings – our whole being to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts and emotions. Thomas Merton. Open Mind, Open Heart.
Look for moments during the day to add silence to your life. You may want to pause before making a phone call or before eating. When having a conversation, remember to give space to the other person. You will be surprised at how quickly adding more silence to your life will improve your sense of well-being.
Hugh Russell helps individuals, small businesses and non-profit agencies identify, implement and sustain improvements. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Project-Transform spiritual life coaching website for access to more resources.