August 24, 2018

The Healing Power of Silence

Silence is nurturing, peaceful, nourishing and can be profoundly life-changing, and yet when I began to develop Sound-Well’s Wellbeing Retreats in the heart of Exmoor’s beautiful landscape, silence was not a deliberate feature of the day. That however soon changed for on the very first retreat I was compelled to invite silence into people’s experience and specifically during the walk and solo time in Nature.

I remember there was one particular young woman. It was during her introduction that she'd expressed her familiarity with anxiety and depression. By the time we came to close the circle, she shared how despite her anxiety at the start of the day and before the silent walk she'd experienced a profound inner peace and calm. I remember her radiant smile as she announced there was no longer a reason to fear silence or stillness. She explained how inspired she was now she could practice what she’d experienced in her own life.

Another participant Magdalena said, “The day was perfect and just what I needed: a warmly and lovingly held sacred space for silence, nature, open-heartedness and peace.”

Many people aren’t aware that silence is the natural antidote to the chaos of a noisy world. It rejuvenates our creativity, strengthens connection to our inner being – to Life itself and nurtures our resilience. Even Science is now showing that silence may be just what we need to regenerate our exhausted brains and bodies.

"A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects of that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University noted that “children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise.”

Something that may be of particular interest to parents and educators is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech!

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof is that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage causes stress and is harmful to humans.”

While noise creates stress, silence relieves it. Noise makes us lose our concentration while silence replenishes and nourishes our cognitive resources.

People often seem surprised when I talk about the healing power of silence. Working with healing sound seems to suggest there is no space for silence and yet silence is in itself healing sound and I love the effect silence has within my Practice. For example during a storytelling session it is deeply satisfying not only because it invites the magical presence of story and our ancestors into the space but more importantly for the listener - it allows the space to meaningfully experience and imagine the story on a profoundly personal level.

Equally, when I work with the Gongs, it is the ‘shunyata’ (Sanskrit for ‘sacred space’) at the end of a gong bath that is perhaps the most satisfying, compelling and nurturing period of the one hour experience.

Physician Luciano Bernadi explains why. It was in 2006 when his research demonstrated that when the subjects of his study were exposed to random stretches of silence in between noise and music, they experienced a powerful effect. The two minute pauses were far more relaxing to the brain than the relaxing music or even the longer silence that was in place before the experiment began. One of Bernadi’s random key findings was that silence is in fact heightened by contrasts.

Silence is nurturing, peaceful, nourishing and can be profoundly life-changing. The ancient spiritual masters have known this all along. Silence heals, silence takes us deeply into ourselves, it balances body and mind. It nurtures spirit.

“Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind.” Buddha

The value of silence is probably felt by everyone at some point in their life but for me it came earlier this year when I spent a week in the Kalahari Desert.

“Each moment of every day in the Kalahari was a blessing and perhaps the bush walks most of all. This was when cameras were left behind and we walked in a silent line deeper and deeper within. Internal and external – the two worlds met. With a growing sense of inner peace and a quietening mind I discovered a profound resonance and connection not only with the Kalahari’s desert wind, red rolling dunes, immense sky and wild ones but also within my own relationship to Silence.”

The healing benefits of nature and stillness are well documented, but now is the time we can add silence in our quest for health and wellbeing. The simple yet ancient experience of silence can be the healing balm that many may be looking for in order to experience a sense of peace and calm.

“The desert is a natural extension of the inner silence of the body.” Jean Baudrillard

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