‘The search for meaning, much like the search for pleasure, must be conducted obliquely. Meaning ensues from meaningful activity.’
– Irvin D. Yalom, Psychiatrist
What does silence feel like, look like, sound like? Think not of the eerie kind, but rather the kind that gives you comfort, relief, and pleasure – like standing under a waterfall or your head sinking into your pillow after a hard day’s work, or that special rhythm that beats within your body after you’ve intensely played a sport. This silence is your very own, something that can’t quite be shared with another; it is yours alone, but does not make you feel lonely.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life in the modern world, it is easy to forget what silence feels like, precisely because there is so much to hear and see and process, an endless number of calls to make, and an infinite amount of things to think about; it’s like a long series of things that – simply put – goes on. The underlying root of the problem is not so much the external noise that is deafening as it is the persistent mental chatter that never ceases. Sometimes, the internal monologue is so powerful that it manages to delve even into our subconscious while we are asleep, swivelling in our dreams in the form of a never-ending stream of words and images. You wake up the next morning, and play this pattern out again. It can become exhausting because – when does the talking stop?
It is not in being idle that one necessarily gains peace of mind. Rather, what brings about the best kind of quiet is when your mind is truly engaged by means of the combination of the following elements:
- Action. The internal talking stops in the face of action; actually doing something as opposed to becoming victims to our racing thoughts not only keeps the mind focused and present but also allows you to separate the wheat from the chaff. Paradoxically, the mind can sometimes “think” much better when it’s not trying to think at all.
- Pleasure. Mere action doesn’t always do the trick. It is the inherent joy that comes out of an activity that provides motivation to participate in it. It could be reading, painting, crafting, playing a sport, or playing a musical instrument. It could be as intricate as calligraphy or as light-hearted as gardening. It is in engaging in activities you enjoy that the mind is not complaining like a persistent child.
When do you know that you are in the presence of that inner stillness? For one, that bugging feeling at the pit of your stomach or at the back of your mind fades away. What ensues instead is a seamless thread that combines your thoughts and actions effortlessly into synchrony. In that moment you are neither thinking nor doing; you are being. In essence, the actual act of your hand making a brush stroke or sowing a seed or strumming the strings is what stops the mind from chattering because it’s too busy concentrating on experiencing the doing of it. Silence has a rhythm purely of its own, and the tune it hums possesses the balm that people seek and so desperately need. It’s just that we’re making too much noise to hear it.
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