When you take a break, what do you do? Listen to music? Put the radio on? Watch some TV? Call a friend? All are potentially enjoyable options. But how often do you take a break in silence?
For many of us, silence is not our go-to option for taking a break and yet time spent in silence is incredibly valuable. To understand why, consider why you would take a break. Generally it is to give yourself a rest from work or an activity. Breaks give you a chance to pause and mentally reconnect with yourself. They are primarily a time of restoration and rejuvenation. The issue with filling these times with sound is that noise brings more stimulation and distraction to your mind.
On the other hand, when you take a break in silence, neither listening to or making noise, you have the chance to check in with yourself. You can notice your breath, tune into how you are feeling mentally and physically, and come back into awareness of your body.
Listening tends to keep your focus up in your head, analyzing and engaging with what you're hearing. Whether the sounds are music or speaking, it is other people’s views of the world that you are being exposed to. Although this can be positive and educational, more often than not, you hear judgment, negativity and the stories of other people. Silence frees you from this. It allows you to turn inward and to tune into your inner landscape.
If your work involves a lot of talking, or is very extroverted, taking a break to be in silence can be particularly beneficial. Even if talking and making noise is something you enjoy, taking the time to rest your ears and voice lets you drop your focus within. You get to use the energy that was being projected outward for nourishing your inner self instead.
Often, the noise that we most need a break from is the noise of our own minds. The best way to find this is through a consistent meditation practice. But a quiet mind is not something that will necessarily come easily, or every time you meditate. What’s more, finding the physical and mental space in which to meditate while at work can be impractical. Instead, taking a break in silence at least stills the external noise, giving you a chance to process your internal chatter and hopefully allowing it to diminish. (Read more in Techniques for Being More Meditative.)
When you start taking silence breaks throughout your day, you may find that you feel calmer and more focused. Your concentration is likely to be better in the time following the break and you are less reactive to people and situations that come up. You use the silence to create mental space. This space allows you to step back and deal with whatever your day brings with more equanimity.
Another powerful thing about silence is that it helps you to recognize the value of words. Words are incredibly effective tools to communicate and connect with others, but, when we are over-stimulated, it’s easy to throw them around without much awareness of their effect on others. Regular breaks in silence make it easier for you to pause before speaking and really consider your intention and the impact it will have. Maybe you'll reconsider whether you need to say anything at all, or perhaps you just choose your words with a little more care. Either way, silence helps in the process of becoming more conscious and considerate in the spoken interactions you have. (Learn more in The Art of Mindfulness.)
If you are used to noise and distraction, it’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable in silence, especially when that silence is shared with another person. For instance, if a friend does not respond quickly to a question you ask, you might jump in and ask something else, or even answer the question for them. When you get comfortable with silence, you learn how to hold silence as a space for others. (Read more in 'Holding Space': What Does that Mean?) Maybe the extra time that this allows gives the person you’re talking to a chance to process and speak when they are truly ready. Or maybe you’ll both experience the bonding power of a shared comfortable silence. If silence is something you can get familiar with, you’re far more likely to be able to share it with others.
We spend so much of our days wrapped up in our minds, in words and noise. Yet for us to experience real connection, to ourselves, to others and to the universe, we need to cultivate feelings of connection, not just think about them. It is through dropping into this quiet feeling space that we get connected. Silence breaks are a powerful way to give ourselves the space to do this. (Learn more in What Will Silence Teach Me?)