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 Cultivate Sanity through Silence 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

When you need a quiet spot, it is rare to be able to find one free of noise from traffic, aircraft, office equipment, home appliances, TVs, or stereos. The noise pollution of modern society grows more strident every year. The background noise in urban environments has been increasing at the rate of about a decibel per year, yet people rarely notice the increased noise because they have learned to block it out. But the stress that it causes is not blocked. Besides the immediate danger of hearing loss due to long-term exposure to the extremely loud sounds at rock concerts and of certain machinery, high levels of noise increase stress and irritability.

When real silence is dared, we can come very close to ourselves and to the deep center of the world.

- James Carroll

Rest and quiet are necessary when you are healing from illness, as well as when you simply want to renew yourself from the forces of overstimulation that are a part of life in the fast lane. It is important to find or create a place where you can achieve some respite from noise, and to use that place for relaxation and healing, for creativity, and for contemplation or perhaps prayer. It is even more important to cultivate an interior silence—one that can be accessed even in the midst of the most distracting external noise. That’s what meditation is all about.

Where or when can you experience silence? In a church, a library, in the middle of the night, in a wooded area, on a mountaintop, in your basement study. When was the last time you allowed yourself the gift of the sound of silence?

Fear of Silence
Many people experience great uneasiness when confronted with a lack of auditory input. Perhaps it is because silence forces them to think, to feel, to touch deep parts of themselves, to sense emptiness or meaninglessness. Learning to be comfortable with silence is really learning to be comfortable alone with yourself. It is one of the healthiest habits one can cultivate.

Nature isn’t silent. Listen to the sounds of a stream or a waterfall, the rush of the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds. Yet nature is one of the greatest teachers of what real silence is about. Learning to be comfortable in nature, alone, without other forms of stimulation like music, hobbies, or people to talk to, is part of the process of quieting your overactive mind and resting from the compulsiveness that drives life in these times.

Why not make a date with yourself in a quiet spot with nothing else to occupy you, and observe what happens.

In the silence of the heart, Your inner voice can be heard. With the silence of the mind, The heart can speak its truth.

Helpful Hints for a Quieter Home
At the very least, you can nourish yourself in a quieter home by eliminating some unnecessary noise. Here are some practical suggestions offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Compare, if possible, the noise output of different brands of appliances before making your selection.
  • Use caution in buying children’s toys that can make intensive or explosive sounds.
  • Use a foam pad under blenders and mixers.
  • * Use carpeting to absorb noise, especially in areas where there is a lot of foot traffic.
  • Hang heavy drapes over the windows that are closest to outside noise sources.
  • Put rubber or plastic treads on uncarpeted stairs. (They’re safer, too.)
  • Keep stereo and TV volumes down, and use headphones if others in the home want quiet.
  • If you use a power mower or any other outdoor equipment, operate it at reasonable hours. The slower the engine setting, the quieter it will operate.

Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

The online version of Dr. Travis' Wellness Inventory may be accessed at ( The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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