With technology dominating our ever-evolving world, society is becoming dependant on constant interaction. Checking Instagram while we wait for our coffee, scrolling Facebook when out to lunch with friends, constantly Snapchatting our every waking move. While technology has allowed us to overcome communication gaps and connected us in many ways, it has seemingly allowed us to abandon any comfort in silence.
Remember driving around with parents and friends and getting lost in your thoughts or in the cars passing by? Or sitting down at the dinner table and having moments where everyone was silent, not because they were typing away at their emails and texts, but just because they were eating? We used to greet these moments of comfortable silence daily; should they be encountered now, they simply leave us fidgeting.
Engaging in comfortable silence, alone or with others, has health benefits both physically and mentally. Noise has been linked to increased stress and blood pressure, where as meditation has proven to reduce stress.
While we may not be able to ditch our phones all together, there are some steps to take to try to limit technological exposure and build back that silence that is comfortable rather than awkward.
Put the phone down.
Okay, this may be obvious, but it’s still easy to forget! Often times we spring to social media because we are excited about the situation at hand: a friend is in town, Starbucks spelled our name right, we just ordered a beautiful looking dish. We now have the opportunity to share these moments instantly, so it’s tough not to.
But once we reach for our phone, our eyes stay glued to it much longer than anticipated. Now we have to choose a filter, a geo tag, oh look – an incoming text! Suddenly, the scene becomes two people interacting with social media rather than each other. Make a conscious effort to enjoy the people and scenery around you. Stare at the trees, stare at each other, make mental notes of the décor. These are all things that make you look around instead of down at your screen.
Suddenly, the scene becomes two people interacting with social media rather than each other.
You’re at a coffee shop. You leave your phone in your pocket, but now what? Shouldn’t you be doing something? Grab a newspaper? Call your mom? Draw on a napkin? While those are all great options to occupy yourself, the reason you feel the need to act engaged is because you aren’t comfortable sitting in silence without an activity to justify it.
Try noticing your surroundings. Take in the mannerisms of the dog at the next table. Maybe you chuckle as he scurries for a crumb, or he wags his tail at you. Study the barista behind the counter; maybe you’ll learn to make a new drink! Or, if you’d prefer, just close your eyes and relax. You can take this time to mentally prepare for a work meeting, check in with how your body is recovering from yesterday’s workout, or think about what your next destination will be.
People aren’t judging you.
Humans are curious beings; we’re always checking out what the other is doing, wearing, saying, etc. Because we are often looking at words and on our phones, we may not realize the amount of available eye-contact that can happen in one sitting.
The other day as I was sitting in the sun eating lunch, about a dozen people glanced my way and a few dogs came over; we’d all exchange a smile or nod, and then the moment was gone. I’ve been in the same scenario while scrolling Instagram and Facebook, and never looked at a single passerby. When you’re sitting in silence and making eye-contact with those around you it may feel uncomfortable at first. You might think they are analyzing you or your group. Trust me, they’re just noticing what’s around them like you are.
We’ve grown so accustomed to surrounding ourselves with non-stop sources of noise and engagement that when we are without those comforts we become hypersensitive to everything else. Just relax and enjoy the silence.
Awesome things come from comfortable silence. You may notice some décor from your favorite shop that you can DIY. Perhaps the person in front of you starts chatting and you make a new friend. Maybe the sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling calms you down from the tense meeting you just had.
And maybe others will thank you. “I think it’s so great you don’t feel pressured to fill the silence like some people might,” a friend once said to me on a long drive. They were just as happy to have a break from conversation as I was.
When was the last time you were just silent, still? What did you notice?
Image via NXSH Images