You sit down in a quiet place, close your eyes, inhale deeply and breathe out slowly and fully. Your mind, frenetic and anxious a minute ago is now starting to calm down. You clear your thoughts away. You are one with yourself, at peace with the universe…
As wonderful as that all sounds, most of us hear about the mind-clearing, peace dawning process of meditation and instantly feel more anxious.
How are we supposed to clear our minds of the billion thoughts that flow through it every day? Where are we supposed to find the time and the place to sit “quietly”? And how exactly are we expected to feel calm when we’ve lost the ability to do nothing?
The idea of meditation is inspiring, and the positive effects of meditation are undeniable (check out Live and Dare’s wonderful infographic summing up the latest research findings), but in practice this is harder than it seems for most people.
On the one hand nothing worth having comes easily, on the other hand if something is too hard for you to follow through on it doesn’t matter how great it is, it’s not right for you.
But, don’t give up yet, because I’m here to show you 1) that it’s totally worth your time and effort to silence the noise in your world, and 2) that it is FAR EASIER than you think.
Shut up, shut up, shut up!
We are constantly bombarded by noise, day and night, whether we want to or not. From the ‘Sparkling Melody’ or ‘Drifting Downstream’ tones of our morning phone alarms, to the background TV and music, the constant hum of traffic, construction, planes and air conditioning systems. It’s noise, noise noise, morning, mid-day and night!
Worst all, half of the time this nuisance is self imposed.
There is so much ambient noise in our worlds today that: 1) most of don’t consciously notice it anymore, and 2) we get all kinds of anxious when it stops.
What’s the big deal with noise? To start as Julian Treasure points out in his Ted Talk, “the way things sound have a tangible, measurable effect on how we feel, how we heal, how we work and how we live.” As he and many others have demonstrated, being exposed to constant noise, and especially noise we don’t choose, increases irritability and stress, reduces immune functions, is associated with higher levels of anxiety, might be associated with shorter lifespans, and negatively affects productivity… and all of these things have a huge personal and financial impact on our lives.
We complain about being stressed and tired, we blame work, the pace of life and bad sleep habits, but we forget that to withstand all that noise, all day long without losing it requires a HUGE amount of brainpower and energy.
Do me a favor, if you can, right this second turn off anything that is producing noise, go sit quietly in a bathroom or something for a second, then come back to read the rest of this post.
Shhh, it will all be okay…
How was it? Did you enjoy those 30 seconds of peace, or did it stress you out? Were you able to even find a place to hide from all the noise in your world?
Based on over a decade working with stressed-out people, my guess is that it was hard to find a quiet a spot, initially kind of nice to be free of the stimulation, and if you tried spending more than 15 seconds in silence you found yourself getting kind of antsy and stressed. Don’t worry, it’s normal, it’s hard to be free of stress and stimulation when it’s been part of your daily life for so long, even though it’s bad for you.
But don’t give up, because I can also tell you that learning to cultivate small periods of quiet peace is one of the easiest and fastest ways to reduce stress, regain balance and restore control on your life. There is a reason noise-canceling headphones retail for hundreds of dollars.
If you can achieve this peace through meditation is wonderful, and if you are ready for that and know how to do it, go for it! For the rest us monkey minded people who can’t shut-up the constant chatter in our brains, and don’t currently have the time/energy/courage/inner peace to cultivate a practice several hours a week, I’ve got a solution.
Instead of aiming for 10 or even 30 minutes of silence a day, shoot for two. Right now, later today and then tomorrow and every day after, set an alarm and find two minutes to sit without distraction or stimulation; cultivate silence.
At Life in Focus (therapy and coaching) I teach people to practice the Art of Nothing, which is a real fancy way of saying that I teach them how to sit for a couple of minutes at a time and do nothing. Initially, people will complain about feeling anxious, stir crazy and a bit intimidated by the whole process, but within a day or two of practicing this they are hooked.
The Art of Nothing is simple, and incredibly soothing. In addition to the universal benefits of silence (reduced stress, lower blood pressure and possibly even neuronal regeneration) it’s often used by people as a way of taking small breaks, checking in with themselves, and self-care in a world where demands of all kind, and constant pressures leave little to no opportunity to stop, reflect and breathe.
If you are interested in getting a step to step guide to learn the Art of Nothing, click here and sign up for my FREE 7 day course.
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