When It Gets Quiet, It Gets Noisy
Our mental health is complex, and it's affected by everything going on around us and inside us. Some of it we can control, and some of it we can’t.
We live in a world of non-stop noise: ever-present electronics, people, music, traffic, and the constant commotion of everyday life. Thankfully, our mind and body have evolved to blend it all into the background, giving us some semblance of peace.
But in a world where true silence is scarce, what happens when it does get quiet? You know, those all-too-rare moments we might only find in the shower, the car, out in nature, or on a walk.
What happens inside when it finally gets quiet outside?
Perhaps you notice your thoughts more or different sensations in your body. If you’re like most people, you probably perceive an inner monologue that may go unnoticed most of the time.
And that monologue has a lot to say. Meditation practitioners often refer to it as the monkey mind, leaping from branch to branch and subject to subject. Do you listen to it, or do you try and suppress it? Maybe you say “I can’t stop thinking” or “I’m overwhelmed”.
We’re constantly hearing - ironically - that we need to quiet our minds. And while that most definitely has its time and place, sometimes we need to lean into that voice. If we don’t, are we ever actually thinking, or do we spend our days simply trying to block it all out?
Our Thoughts Deserve Our Attention
Too few of us take the time to sit with our thoughts. When the opportunity presents itself, we instead mindlessly scroll social media, text with a friend, listen to music, turn on Netflix, work out, and so on. Is that you?
Or are you one of those uncommon individuals opting instead to go with it via meditation or journaling?
You don’t have to be all-in with either group, though. As with most things in life, balance is key.
To that end, I want you to remember two key points:
- Silence must be found.
- Recognize your patterns for thought diversion.
Your patterns will be different than mine, but it’s important to identify and ignore them from time to time. Found silence provides an opportunity to hear, acknowledge, contemplate, detangle, resolve, and integrate your thoughts, and that can lead to a substantial decrease in your mental load.
In short, a sounder mind.
It may not be comfortable at first. In fact, it definitely won’t be. Withdrawal symptoms from external distraction are a powerful force.
Know that going in, prepare for that struggle, and you’re better set up for success.
Our Thoughts as People
Try this simple thought experiment: imagine your thoughts as people fighting for your attention.
With all of them competing for your focus, it may seem easier to just ignore them en masse. To treat it as one giant noise that needs to be rejected rather than taking the time and energy to sort it out.
It’s a quick fix, right?
But there’s a catch: some of those people - your thoughts - have insights and information that can help you. Not all of them, of course, but enough that it becomes detrimental to ignore what they’re saying.
So, you instead stop and listen, which excites the group to a fever pitch when they notice you’re finally paying attention, and that makes them louder and even more frenzied.
And you? You retreat.
Sound familiar? When our monkey mind kicks into gear, our distraction tactics likewise jump into action and we turn our attention away.
Consider this, though: If you frequently spend intentional time listening to those people, to your thoughts, they’ll learn to relax. They’ll no longer scream over each other to be heard for fear of never getting another chance. They’ll become more orderly and disciplined. You’ll get to hear every idea, insight, and observation they have to share.
So, when it does go silent, it’s a gift; an opportunity. Listen curiously and minimize your diversions for at least 20 minutes a day.
A daily practice like this will make space to organize the clutter up there, so you can be more present for life down here.
Be patient. Integrate. You will reap the benefits.