The Comfort of Silence

by Emily Trama

Silence can be many things: peaceful, relaxing, comforting. However, silence can also be terrifying, stressful or even deafening. How can silence be deafening? We often try to fill silence when we look at it as a void. When we see a void, our instinct is to fill it, to flood it. We fill our ears with music, white noise, friends’ voices… anything to distance ourselves from the sound of nothing.

I think this is because silence is never truly pure; instead, it leaves our minds with no barricade of sound to block it from making us aware of our thoughts. So what do we do? We often want to rush through our lives and keep busy to avoid it. Now we are overwhelmed, deafened by our worries and anxieties over avoiding our stresses and anxieties.

Silence can pass the time just as much as the business we force ourselves into to avoid it. Think about all the times you drifted off, staring at something but fixated on nothing. When our vision blurs, and our gaze softens, so do our minds, and we begin thinking. Thinking is the origin of our aversion to silence. The fear that lies behind the mask of silence is the monster we have fabricated from our fear of thinking. Being left alone with our thoughts is what truly strikes us with grief. When we are afraid of our thoughts, we are afraid of ourselves, and there is no health, growth or prosperity in that. 

All of our thoughts are organic, homegrown in our own minds. Even the ones we try to force come with the full awareness that we are making ourselves say that in our minds. They bubble up to the surface for a reason. Imagine yourself in a room with no windows or doors and picture each of your thoughts written on their own pieces of paper. Now, imagine taking the first thought, crumpling it up and throwing it into the corner of the room. If you keep doing that for every thought that comes in front of you, what will happen? Eventually, balls of paper will fill the room and you will have nowhere to go. You are then forced to deal with all of the thoughts at once. You could have done this one at a time when the thoughts came to you in the first place.

When everything is silent, and we are left with no important tasks, conversations or work, we are supposed to find time to deal with our thoughts. Maybe now and then, a small pile builds up in the corner when we need to be busy and distracted from paying attention to them. But, when a wave of no sound comes along, we must ride it and recognize, understand and appreciate our thoughts. When there is no sound around me, I should not ignore the sound within. 

What are you thinking about? We learn a lot about ourselves in these moments: what brings us pain, pleasure, anxiety, elation, depression, happiness, anger, love… Now find your breath. We always come back to the breath to keep ourselves from over-thinking. It is like a pause in a sentence to keep us from becoming overwhelmed with a story. Many of us, including myself, fear silence and thinking because we know we are our own worst enemies. We know that we will think a little, maybe even enjoy the short bliss, but will eventually begin to pick those thoughts apart past their core meaning and twist it around until it is no longer true to ourselves. Remember: Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Just breathe.

In moments of silence, find somewhere to lay or sit comfortably. Close your eyes and allow your mind to wander. Keep your breath steady and present, but somewhat shallow. Allow your thoughts to surface softly; if a thought is too painful, move on but keep it close by for a later time. Allow the thoughts to drift in and out as they please until you are no longer comfortable. Take a break for a minute, hour, day or week, but continue until silence becomes a comfort rather than a last resort.

Being comfortable in silence is not easy. It is something we learn how to do on our own will to better our quality of life. In the end, we are our thoughts and that is something we will always be. We must take care of them so we can take care of ourselves. Recognize yourself, understand yourself and appreciate yourself.


A version of this originally appeared in “Comfort” The Teller November 2019 Issue #8

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