As a teenager I went to a school that had a silent meeting 6 days a week. It was mandatory, no excuses and no skipping, and there were no books, notes or other distractions (it was before the days of iphones!). Every student and teacher made their way to the meeting hall each morning where the four groups of seating all faced the middle of the room, and we sat in silence for 10-15 minutes every day.
In hindsight doing this consistently from the age of 11 to 18 was one of the best things I could ever have done (even though at the time I probably complained about it some days). It was the beginning of my understanding of the value in a little quiet time every day. In those few minutes of silence you could get your head around the day ahead, go over mental notes for a test, consider interactions with others or think about how recent or past events had affected others in your life or community. Sometimes we would connect to a quiet place inside akin to meditation, or be inspired by an idea, or perhaps contemplate a career path or dream about what we might do in the future. The key was just taking the time to be quiet, every day, without external input, noise or distraction.
This week I remembered that daily ritual and it got me thinking about the 'pauses in-between' that seem to be getting less frequent in our daily lives. I remember as I grew up that there were pauses and moments for reflection every day, even outside of those meetings we had at school. We had time to be with our thoughts while waiting for a train, (while travelling on the train!), waiting for appointments, drinking tea in a café, or when folding laundry just to name some of the many! There were moments of quiet every single day. Smart phones are wonderful things, but they are a constant temptation in those moments of quiet, and we find ourselves reaching for them out of habit to make sure we don't have to stand with nothing to do for more than a second. The more society advances technologically, the less we experience moments of quiet reflection.
Take a moment to consider how many of us fill every spare moment with some kind of input. Simple things such as washing up or vacuuming which used to be times to think or daydream a little are now filled with podcasts, music, TV, audiobooks or online learning. When we're waiting for an appointment, for a friend to arrive at a restaurant, or for the adverts on TV to pass what do we do? We scroll, listen, play games and read.
Before computers lived in our pockets, those moments were spent in contemplation, thinking, analyzing, sorting, planning and dreaming. That time was spent with our inner voice. I know that listening to our inner voice can be scary (we can be really mean to ourselves!) but it's no reason to totally ignore it and zone out with distractions. If we don't listen to what's going on inside, we will never have the opportunity to work deeper into understanding, there is no opportunity to explore ways that might still the mind and we'll never have peace!
It's time to build in some space - some moments of quiet into our lives that allow us to ponder. If your inner voice is mean, it's an opportunity to practice the yogic principles of svādhyāya (self study) and ahimsa (non harming), actively and compassionately replacing the negative thought patterns with more constructive and supportive thoughts, and letting go of things that no longer serve you.
The more you practice being present in the moment and practice being ok with the silence, the more you realise the magic in those moments in between - where you can people watch, see beauty in the world around you, and be present and at ease. In these moments you could discover some connection to the world around you, feel a sense of lightness, find a connection to your true self, or maybe come up with your next great idea!
To find some space for our inner voice we must overcome the habit of reaching for distraction! Begin today by finding just a few minutes to be quiet without distraction. If you'd like some inspiration, here are 5 ways you can practice finding time for your inner voice.
~ If you run or walk, go on your next run/walk without earphones
~ Try driving in silence without music/podcast/audiobooks
~ When you're waiting in line at the supermarket/doctors etc do not look at your phone or read a magazine
~ If you keep a TV on a low constant chatter in the home or office, turn it off for a set amount of time each day to have a quiet house while you do your tasks or drink tea
~ Enjoy a sunset in silence, alone or with friends or family (without taking a photo or sharing on social media)