(Noble) Silence is Golden

The life changing beauty of spending mornings in silence

For the vast majority of my life, I’ve not exactly been a “morning” person. In fact, I’d say that I’ve always been the exact opposite. While I am fairly personable most of the time, in the morning my mood falls anywhere on a scale from Depressed to Ragey with Panicked falling somewhere in the middle.

To really emphasize this, even my devout Catholic mother who doesn’t believe in swearing would be the first to tell you that historically, Morning-Anne-Marie is…well, a straight-up bitch. Honest to god, I once open-palm smacked my dear mom straight across the face when she tried to wake me. I swear it only happened once, and I felt terrible about it.

But I will also forever argue that one cannot truly be held responsible for actions they took at 15, half asleep, being awoken by Beethoven’s Fifth being blasted through the house.

The Angry Teen Years

As a kid, I was often encountering well-rested, chipper people who arise bright-eyed and bushy tailed. My mother, my grandparents, all my aunts and uncles. My brother and father were my equals in grumpiness, but for some reason this trait was brushed off for them, in ways it never will be for me.

Teenaged me. In cat form. 100%. Photo credit to www.veryfunnypics.eu, if you couldn’t tell…

It was expected of me to attempt to regulate my bad mood and gleefully inform my mother of how I slept and what I intended to do at school that day. She wanted to discuss our plans for the evening and make sure I’d done all my homework.

You’d think by my teenaged years she’d have figured out that I was never going to do my homework and that all I really cared about at 6am was eating my toaster waffles whilst attempting to keep my hair free of pancake syrup (an art I’ve still not mastered).

Now adays we’d say I was attempting to live mindfully by focusing on the present, but America wasn’t up to speed on mindfulness in the late 90’s, who knew?

She’d talk to me, I’d grunt at her, she’d get angry that I couldn’t “just be nice”, I’d get angry that she hadn’t yet learned to just leave me the f — alone, we’d storm off to our respective responsibilities with a habitual yet emotionless “I love you” through gritted teeth, and we’d be surprised that we mostly had shitty days.

The Anxious Adult Years

I took it for what I thought it was — me not being a morning person — and I began to develop a belief that there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t understand why some people are happy in the mornings and why it was so difficult for me to be polite and engage in joyful conversation.

As an adult, my household situation has changed many times over, to include roommates, a partner, or both. My rearing taught me enough manners to know that it is completely unacceptable to be grumpy towards a housemate who isn’t family, but it stresses me out to engage in morning conversation.

Overtime, my grumpiness went away and was replaced by anxiety about becoming grumpy. I began to engage in conversation solely because it felt strange to be silent while in the same room as someone, and if they didn’t much feel like talking I’d take it personally, thinking I was doing something wrong. I’d talk just to talk, hoping for something positive, as human connection with people who I cared about provided reassurance that helped put my anxiety at ease.

Photo credit from https://iveronicawalsh.wordpress.com

Unfortunately, reassurance seeking is a behavior that ironically creates the exact problem you’re trying to prevent. Reassurance seeking is annoying and it pushes people away. Most humans aren’t self-aware enough to understand what is pushing them away — and if they do, they are afraid to discuss something that might cause further worry in an already anxious person. So instead, people end up avoiding the situation altogether and they just leave. Which just makes things even worse for the anxious person.

The Soothing Sounds of Silence

It was at a Vipassana style meditation retreat that I learned about Noble Silence — a deprivation of all forms of communication, including phones, reading, writing, gesturing, physical contact, or even eye contact. For ten days, the 50 people in attendance hear only the sounds of nature and their teachers. No music. No books. No journals. No social media. At first it was torture, but after the 5th day my mind finally began to quiet as I finally accepted my fate.

I actually had a full fledged break down in the middle of meditation. So much so, that I felt the need to remove myself, for fear of distracting others. I’d actually become so accustomed to crying as a way of achieving loving attention, my body would do it without even trying. But this time, the only affection I received was someone passing me a tissue.

It was the first time that such a small act really hit me as being emotionally supportive. We’d all vowed to stay silent and pretend to be alone during our time at this training. Yet someone still offered me a tissue, as a way of saying “You’re not alone.”

After 10 days in silence, I had very little desire to check my phone, or deal with the outside world again. I’d discovered things about myself and others during meditation. Things I was only able to learn because I’d finally just shut my mouth and listened.

Two Steps Forward

A few months later, I was fully living in a (non-silent) Buddhist style community in Thailand, and it was there, 17 years post-bitchslapping my mother, that I finally learned that it is perfectly acceptable to want quiet time after first waking up.

We rose at 05:30, practiced yoga at 06:00, meditated at 07:30, prepared breakfast and did chores at 08:00, ate at 08:30. There were 40 of us, and we did these things as a group — but we did them without a word to one another. We’d only finally break our silence after breakfast clean-up, around 09:30.

That’s right — we spent the first four hours of our day in silence, save for the voice of our yoga and meditation teacher.

Five-thirty is hard. Especially for those of us who notoriously despise waking up. Grateful that I didn’t have to speak in the mornings, I was able to rise in whatever hot-mess mood I happened to be wearing that day, without needing to worry about putting on a show for the sake of other people’s feelings.

It took two months for a change to happen, but it did. Eventually, I no longer hated waking up. Don’t get me wrong, I find it unlikely that I’ll ever be someone who smiles first thing in the morning, but I stopped waking up feeling angry, sad, or anxious and quite frankly, it was marvelous.

One Step Back

When I returned to the Western world, I maintained silence in the mornings while staying with my parents, communicating this need to my mother before my arrival. She laughed and said she should have made a morning silence rule for me 20 years ago.

Well Mom, I tried real hard to get you to stop talking to me by being a total bitch, but somehow you failed to understand my passive-aggressive communication.

Unfortunately, once I left my parents house, my morning silence slowly unraveled and with it returned my anxiety.

Beautiful Mornings

Last week, a conversation with my partner encouraged me to reinstate silence. The next morning, we practiced silence until 9am, and while I woke with anxiety, it subsided much faster, and more importantly, I didn’t have to rely on my partner to get rid of it. We both had a much happier morning and with it, a much more inspiring day. I did yoga for the first time in weeks, read some of my book, medidated, and feeling enthusiastic about life, I sat down and finished an entire rough draft of an this article — my first completed article in over two months.

Today, we’ve been (mostly) practicing silence all week — we still hug and kiss one another we just do so without speaking. While I do read, I don’t look at my phone or my computer for the first 2 hours of my day. I’ve meditated more, read more, slept better, and beautifully, my morning anxiety has (mostly) subsided. When it is there, instead of spending time trying to make it go away, I sit with it, and accept it, which actually makes it easier to deal with.

Sure, one week does not a change make, but since I’ve seen long term change from silence before, I have confidence it will happen again.

So, if you tend to start your day on the wrong foot — I’d like to challenge you to spend as much of your morning in silence as possible — and that goes for social media, TV, podcasts, and music. Put down the damn phone, turn off the electronics, and take a walk or read a book. Give it 30 or 60 days. Heck, just give it a week. I promise you’ll see a positive change.

If my personal anecdote isn’t enough to entice you to try, scientific research supports the idea of 2 hours of silence per day. It helps increase memory and learning, emotional stability, patience and even relationship stability. A quick Google search of Benefits of Silence will bring up a slew of articles on the topic. Happy browsing. :-)

Sassy+Loving. Scientific+Spiritual. Nomadic. Always sincere, often wry. Hopefully romantic. Polymath.

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