Like many people, you might hear about mindfulness and meditation and think, “Silence? Slowing down? That’s just not for me.” In our on-the-go, productivity-and-achievement-minded culture, the thought of sitting still, or embracing silence, can seem like the opposite of what will help us make progress in our lives. Yet if we don’t take time to slow down and zoom out from our day-to-day habits, our lives might start to live us in a way that eventually makes it hard for us to recognize ourselves!
A result of our achievement-oriented culture is that many people fear or avoid slowing down and taking time to just “be” with themselves; for one, because they’ve grown used to the pace they’ve adopted as routine, and perhaps also because they’re afraid of what they might feel or uncover if they create that space. I know I’ve been there.
“Why are you so afraid of silence? Silence is the root of everything. If you spiral into its void, a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear.”
It can be scary to stop the hamster wheel when it “works” for us in a number of ways, but if you notice there’s a resistance to hearing that inner voice, why is that? Perhaps there’s more to life than the hamster wheel? What might that be, and what might that look like for you? I’ll tell you what it’s looking like for me.
Learning to Live Consciously
Growing up, I let pop culture, fairy tales, and family patterns set the tone for what I expected my future life to look like; I thought I’d be married by age 23, and have kids by 26. Yet here I am—34, unmarried, and child-free, and pretty cool with it, since I feel like I’ve only started to get to know myself within the last 10 years. I’ve had career change after career change and almost let myself get swept up in corporate ladder-climbing that I knew deep down I had no interest in pursuing.
I have no doubt that if I hadn’t been curious about the internal voice insisting there’s more for me at various points in the last decade, and allowed myself the space and silence to listen to it through journaling, therapy, and mindfulness practice, I’d have allowed myself to get stuck in a life of other people’s expectations. Even today I’m still working to loosen the grip of the deepest roots from seeds planted by others.
In a world where we’re constantly receiving external messages on what we should be, do, look like, and care about, we can fall into a sort of unconscious way of living that’s been externally prescribed. Our careers, family traditions, educational experiences, and communities can impose some pretty strong expectations on how we think and behave. When’s the last time you thought about what you want for your life, and what truly matters to you?
Mindfulness and meditation create an opportunity to view things more objectively—as they are, rather than what we’ve been told they are, or have learned to believe them to be. We can learn to look at our lives and all the details free of our previously held associations. We can learn to live consciously.
Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to step out of the autopilot we’ve been running on and make more intentional choices for our life.
Let Silence Bring Wisdom and Clarity
“Thoughts will lead you in circles. Silence will bring you back to your centre.”
Yes, living mindfully requires us to seek and create some space for silence in our lives, which can feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But this space helps us identify and observe our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and fears. From that awareness, we can consider where we may have absorbed these ideas from, and decide whether they still serve us. We can learn to return to our center—our truth.
Meditation is often portrayed as if it requires turning “off” the mind and sitting in complete silence—including a lack of thoughts—but that isn’t the goal in mindfulness meditation. While silence can be helpful for creating focus, we can learn a lot from noticing the sounds around (and within!) us. We also don’t want to stop those voices in our heads that constantly run a script for our self-image and how we see our world; instead, we want to make space to listen for them, notice how we instinctively react to them, and learn from them.
In my experience, taking classes and using guided meditations have been very helpful for building a foundation for my practice. I also realized in recent months that I’d become over-reliant on guided meditation recordings, and it reflected my tendency to look outside myself for direction. Today, six years after starting my mindfulness journey, I’m starting to really see the power in self-guided meditations, honoring the wisdom I already have inside me. I’m excited for this new phase in my personal practice, and I want others to experience it, too.
There is wisdom waiting for us, within our internal experience, if we can allow for the space and be willing to enter the silence.
Are you willing?