Inviting Silence to Quiet Stress

December 5, 2010

We live in a noisy world both inside our own minds and the world in which we move. Much of this noise is uninvited. We may seem to be immune to it, but the relentless pressure of sound generates stress. We live in a heightened state of arousal, as if on terrorism alert.

Even when the world is quiet, our internal landscape may be anything but quiet. Relentless thoughts about the future, often in the form or worry; sticky thoughts about the past, often in the form of regret; and unabashed opinions about the present (often with a plaintiff feeling tone) preoccupy our minds.

There are different types of silence we can cultivate. If our default position is inner and outer noise and inner noise even if it is quiet without, the desired alternatives are inner silence and outer noise and inner silence and outer silence.

Four AM is an auspicious time of day in many contemplative traditions. The world used to be quiet at 4 AM, long before 24-hour stores and the ongoing hum of our electrical and now electronic world. Still, Four AM is relatively quiet as are the other early morning hours. The children are not yet awake, traffic has not started piling up, the press of the work day not yet begun.

Of course, we can be in the relaxing silence of the early morning hours and not have inner silence, and this is why we practice mindfulness — to cultivate that inner quiet. And if you’ve tried mindfulness practice you’ve discovered that this quiet is not always so. We move in an out of quiet and this IS the practice. The goal should not be to make the mind quiet for this only sets us up with expectations. Rather, the practice is retrieve the mind back from noise and allow it to be quiet for a moment or however long it is before it is drawn back out of silence. Again, the practice is to keep coming back.

When we can create this space of returning to silence within ourselves we can take this space anywhere. Now when we are in the noisy world of cars, people shouting into cell phones, construction, and just the hum of daily life we can enjoy an inner quiet.

It’s important to spend some time each day cultivating this sense of inner silence. Ideally, you’ll devote a good 30 to 45 minutes in sitting or walking meditation (see the Guided Meditation links below in this entry). If you can’t devote this time, carve out a few minutes to do a mini-mindfulness practice. Just three minutes can punctuate your day with a soulful silence that disrupts the mounting stress of the typical day.

For more information on mindfulness and additional guided practices, visit my website Exquisite Mind. The complete CD 1, CD2, CD3, and CD4 are now available for listening and download, free. Visit here for a guided breathing and body scan meditationwalking and standing and standing yoga, mindful yoga, and the mind scan and emptiness practices.

Arnie Kozak, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, meditation instructor, and author of Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness(Wisdom, 2009). He also the founder of the Exquisite Mind in Burlington,Vermont and writes a daily blog entitled Mindfulness Matters: Tools for Living Now! You can practice mindfulness meditation with Arnie every Friday morning from 8:00 to 8:45 (EST) in the online classroom. To login into this free meditation, click here.

As an expert in stress reduction, wellness, and mindfulness, Arnie will present weekly practical wisdom for transforming stress. His award-winning writing will help you to lead a richer and happier life.

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