Our world is filled with noise. We are surrounded by outside sounds from television, radio, appliances, and all the conveniences of modern life; and we live with an ever increasing state of noise within arising from feelings of anxiety and depression, rushing through one responsibility to get to the next, the unchecked turnings of our minds, and physical tension. These 10 practices are easy and accessible ways to access more quiet space within and to reduce internal noise, quiet your mind and more affectively relax and rejuvenate your body.
1) Reduce External Noise
It’s a loud, loud, loud, loud world. Cellphones, iPods, radio, television, cars, the appliances in our home all contribute to the ever increasing external noise around us. One of the simplest ways to begin to cultivate internal quiet is to reduce the level of external noise. Turn off the car radio, even if it’s just for several minutes. Spend the first 10 to 20 minutes of your evening in quiet, without the radio or the television. Try completing a chore in quiet. As you practice this more often, you may begin to notice that the initial discomfort you experience in response to the silence around you shifts and dissolves, leaving you craving moments and spaces without all the external noise.
We each have two voices. One that bounces around between our ears, the voice of our minds; and one that arises from below as intuition. As we begin to cultivate quiet we can develop skills to distinguish between the two voices. Often times we get caught up in what the voice in our mind is saying as it turns things over and over in never ending fluctuation. That is the job of the mind. It’s role is to sort through our environment, experience, and perceptions. It catagorizes and “makes sense” of the input from our external world. It is not, however, our Self. The voice of our true, highest nature arises from the heart. It is this voice that is informing of our purpose and our most genuine, conscious action.
This step is also applicable in conversation. We often spend our listening time in conversation formulating our own thoughts and responses rather than truly listening to the person we are speaking with. Take time to really listen to the person speaking and not your own mental voice, the next time you are engaged in conversation. It is only from this place of steady listening that we can begin to formulate an honest and grounded response rather than an emotional, patterned reaction.
3) Speak Less
Speaking less is a simple way to cultivate inner quiet. This goes not only for your conversations with others, but also conversations with yourself (those chattering fluctuations mentioned above). Choose a manageable period of time, such as thirty minutes or an hour, and vow to speak only when spoken to. Have a mini silent retreat, even if it’s just one hour. When you return to the world of unbridled conversation, practice thinking twice and speaking once. It isn’t always possible to maintain a personal silent retreat in the midst of a busy work day, but noticing how often we speak when it really isn’t necessary is a good first step to noticing how not speaking can support a more peaceful state of mind and body.
4) Soften your tongue and eyes
Anytime that it occurs to you during the day, practice noticing tension in your tongue and jaw and the position of your head along the sagittal plane. That is, how forward your eyes are in your head. Think of softening and gently widening your tongue from it’s base in your throat to the tip and softening your eyes deeper into their sockets. This can be done anytime, anywhere: while driving or standing in line at the grocer, sitting at your desk, while filling your gas pump or during a telephone conversation. Softening these areas of your face cultivates quiet in your skull, which in turn can affect your mind and help to facilitate speaking less and active listening.
5) Practice Gratitude
Feelings of lack and desperation can wreak havoc on your sense of quietatude. Instead of taking stock of what isn’t, count the blessings of what is. You can’t focus on what is missing if you’re in a state of appreciation for what you have. Dissonance is created when our actions do not match our beliefs and when we perceive that our experience is lacking in some aspect. This increases the level of cellular tension within the body. Did you know your cells can be tense? They can. Just like the previous three steps this can be practiced anywhere, anytime. The benefits of practicing gratitude on stress level and general health and well being, are well documented and produce immediate results. Finding a source of gratitude in each and every manifestation brings the self to a state of fulfillment. To a wise man, enough is a feast.
6) Tune into your senses. One at a time.
Give your attention over to your sensory experience, focusing on one sense at a time. Eating is a good time to practice sight, smell and taste. Focus your awareness on the appearance of your meal. Take in the form and color. Notice how your body responds to the smells. Chew slowly and absorb all the flavors of each bite. To tune into your hearing turn off the tv and radio, eliminate intentional noise, and tune into the other, incidental noises in your environment. Can you hear the clock ticking or the birds outside? Don’t try to name what you perceive, just notice. When you get into bed at night notice the temperature of the sheets, the softness of the pillow, and how your body responds to reclining. Your mind will want to name things, that’s normal. Don’t get caught up in it, passively receive what you perceive.
7) Focus on one task at a time. Take your time.
We are a multi-tasking society. We rarely do only one thing. Whether we are watching TV while surfing the internet, listening to the radio while driving, or tweeting while doing potentially anything our attention is divided everywhere we go. Make it a point to give all of your attention over to one task. With this kind of focus, you can be productive and precise in your task while also cultivating quietitude.
8) Notice your thoughts. Notice your breathing.
When we are in a state of heightened anxiety, fear, or confusion our breath shortens and becomes more shallow. You don’t have to be in an uncomfortable state for your thoughts to affect the depth and quality of your breath. Sometimes simply thinking intensely about any subject can cause us to shorten or even hold our breath. Meditative sitting is perhaps the best way to begin to experience this relationship. Find a quiet place and take a seat that is comfortable. If you are not used to sitting cross legged on the floor then give yourself some support. Elevate your hips by sitting on a yoga block or a cushion. Support your back against a wall or if necessary sit in a chair with both feet touching the ground. This practice is most effective if you are in an upright position. Reclining is not encouraged. Once you’ve found your seat, close your eyes and observe your natural breath in and out of your nose. Assigning descriptive words to the quality of your breath isn’t necessary. Simply watch your breath as it enters and exits your body through your nose. Your minds natural state is one of thinking. Thoughts will arise from all corners of your mind. The objective is not to stop your thoughts, but to notice them and the space between them. When a thought arises, simply label it “thinking” and return to watching your breath. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. Understanding comes from participation. Proficiency is born of practice.
9) Notice how your thoughts affect your body.
This can be done as a part of the sitting practice, but can also be practiced anywhere, anytime. Our minds, bodies and spirits do not operate independently of each other. Each is connected to the other in both subtle and gross ways. This is most often experienced when we are sick or injured. When our body is not operating at it’s best, it can contribute to reduced self esteem and melancholy. Likewise, when we brood over an experience or circumstance our feelings of vitality and happiness are compromised. Our minds and thought patterns also have an affect on our physical bodies. Next time you have a negative thought, stop, pause and scan your body for tension or muscular tightening. Does an argument with a loved one create tension in your belly? Do feeling of depression or vulnerability lead to compression in the center of your chest? Do worries about work or frets over a decision create subtle tension in your solar plexus or wreak havoc on your digestion? Over time these slight compressions in our physical bodies create resistance to the flow of oxygen and prana (life force) contributing to reduced flexibility, mental blocks, false images of ourselves and physical illness. Getting in touch with how your body responds to your thoughts, can serve to break this chain and help us stay open, balanced and quiet in the midst of challenging circumstances and relationships.
10) Find what you love to do. Do that thing.
Whether it is making music or another form of art, preparing food, dancing, playing sport, performing, making discoveries, or any other activity; if you have not found that thing you love to do then let your first priority be to find it. Nothing compares to the blissful experience of engaging in something you love or sharing your unique skill or talent. Your most joyful activities are direct links to your inner most sense of quiet and ease, joy, love, and peace.
Some of the benefits I’ve noticed from these practices are: greater confidence and clarity in decision making, less anxiety and worry, fewer negative critiques of myself, better listening skills, calmer and more thoughtful responses to challenging experiences, more of an inclination to seek out quiet within and without. Give these steps a try and let me know how they work for you.