Jun 26 2017

The Importance Of Silence

Published by at 10:25 am under Blog

I have this recurring dream, a nightmare really. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. Actually, I have two recurring dreams that have stayed with me since I was a child, but I’ll address the second one another time. This one is about noise, confusion, claustrophobia, and overwhelming anxiety.

It sort of feels like a memory, but I think it’s been warped so much by time, repetition, other dreams, and other experiences that I can’t say for sure. But I’m a child. I’m around three or four years old and I’m sitting on a kitchen counter-top. My head fits neatly under the cupboard above me. I’m alone in the kitchen, but there are a number of people in the room next door – three, four, five. They’re shouting, arguing, screaming. Everyone is talking over one another, so I can’t discern any one voice, any topic, any sentence, any point. It gets louder and louder. I’m intensely closing my eyes, but the noise pounds against me. My heart races and I’m sweating. I try to close my eyes even more fiercely, but the shouting, the voices get stronger. It could be 500 people all shouting over everyone else now. I’m holding my hands against my ears, but it doesn’t help. I’m not crying – my eyes are so resolutely shut that it would be impossible. The anxiety is overwhelming. My head is throbbing, my heart is about to explode, I’m dizzy and can no longer feel the counter-top below me, the wall to my side, I can’t feel my hands, my legs, my body. I am composed of this noise now, this painful, incomprehensible screaming, shouting din.

I wake up.

For a few moments, I’m still dizzy. The noise is like a fading echo. I’m still filled with anxiety and I am flooded in fear. My heart still races and I’m usually dripping in sweat.

I don’t get this dream very often. Maybe once or twice a year. I know it occurs more in times of stress. In fact, in the greatest times of difficulty in my life, I experience the “dream” while awake. And that’s no fun at all.

I’ve never liked an over-abundance of noise. Whether that’s as a result of the dream or if the dream is a result of my hatred of the clatter, I’ll never be sure. But both the dream and my aversion to noise are so intertwined with my personality now that I don’t think the origin matters. What matters is my need for silence. Yes, in times of emotional stress, work stress, personal stress, it’s vital that I get away to a quiet space and allow myself time to find my centre. But it’s equally important to take a breather when I’m not under any great stress. I have come to realise that I need the silence to ensure the seeds of anxiety do not take root.

Truly, after all I’ve been through in my life, I am the person that can handle anything. I can, I do, and I will cope with anything the world throws at me. It’s my superpower. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I have built myself a mental toolkit to help me deal with any situation. Particularly in times of crisis, when everyone else is panicking and shouting and appointing blame, it’s like a switch flips in my head. I become very calm and very quiet. I slowly weigh up everything that’s happening and I immediately start finding solutions. I delegate. I put people to work and I calm those around me. Some people will require a warm shoulder, some people will require a sharp figurative slap to the face. Some situations need an immediate response, some a considered timely course of action. I know this is my strongest skill and it is rooted in silence. When everything else is in chaos, my mind is clear, calm and quiet.

Silence leads to self-reflection. Self-reflection leads to finding meaning. Meaning in things, meaning in situations, and meaning in life. Finding meaning is what makes us fully functioning humans, I think. Silence doesn’t have to mean a three day retreat in the mountains (although, that does sound lovely). It doesn’t even have to mean excluding yourself from people for hours on end. It could simply mean taking a ten minute bathroom break when out with friends in a noisy bar. It could mean a short walk or a long shower. In work, it can mean taking a walk around the site or a five minute moment of solitude in the server room (I am the only one with the key).

My working life can so often be a cacophony of phonecalls, requests from colleagues, questions from contractors, talks with my boss, email streams, document flows, endless piles of paperwork… too often, our culture assigns self-worth with productivity. And this is why people burn out. Solitude and silence allows us a break from the evil overlord of productivity. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, sometimes doing nothing enables us to do so much.

I suppose a truly balanced life is one where we do not forget the past, but don’t dwell on it; where we plan for the future, but don’t obsess over it; and where we live in the here and now, enjoying it with the knowledge of all that has come before and the hope for all that lies ahead of us. It a nice thought, but so very difficult to achieve. I love to think I live in the here and now, but then I start thinking about that really stupid, embarrassing thing I said to that girl when I was 17 years old. I start panicking that I won’t be able to afford the flights home for Christmas, the presents for everyone, the time off work, not to mention the worry of Simon’s visa issues… and calm. Living in the here and now is not frickin’ easy. I need my time-outs. I need silence to drown out all the little niggling voices in my head.

I don’t suffer that dream very often these days, but I know it’s there at the back of my head. I know the next bout of depression is only a bad rainy day away. I know a crashing, crumbling spell of anxiety is always ready to grab hold of my collar and drag me into the pit. But I know I can deal with it and I know I will get through it all. I take my moments of silence. I breathe. I smile. I appreciate everything I have right at this moment. And I get on with it. What more can any of us do?

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