Calm — A Quality of Light We Can All Embody Through Silence

I awoke this morning and headed to my laptop to read the early morning news before my first client arrived at 7:00am. I am excerpting the portion of the article that shattered my calm.

The Campaign Promise Congress Won’t Let Trump Keep by Rob Garver from The Fiscal Times.

“Voters who supported Donald Trump through his campaign for the presidency have been slowly coming to the realization that not all of the president-elect’s promises were meant to be taken literally — or that he even remembers making them.

For some, the realization that they had been sold a bill of goods by the incoming president hit home when it became clear that alumni of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank Trump constantly attacked on the campaign trail, would be key members of his new administration.

For others, it took Trump explicitly admitting it himself. Last week, after announcing with great fanfare that Carrier Corporation had been persuaded to keep some 700 jobs in Indiana rather than sending them to Mexico (along with the more than 1,000 jobs it is still sending south of the border) Trump admitted that he had never actually meant it when he promised voters in Indiana that Carrier would never leave. In fact, he said, it wasn’t until he watched a video of his own speech that he even remembered saying it in the first place.

Honestly, I am once again speechless. He “never actually meant it when he promised voters in Indiana that Carrier would never leave”? He lied to the voters in Indiana and the Rustbelt of America who believed he meant those promises to keep American business in America? My body is shaking. My mind is spinning. I cannot focus. I feel, once again, the country has a dangerous liar assuming office in January. My calm has been shattered and I feel my shadow protectors wanting to jump him to help me. They want to rage; they are terrified; they feel hopeless; they want to write really nasty things. These are all reactions to trauma.

Many of my clients are trauma survivors. I am a trauma survivor. I can attest professionally and personally that those who have experienced traumas feel a constant tension in their bodies. They feel like a tightly wound spring that makes them hyper-vigilant and agitated. Not only is the body in physical distress so too is the mind. The mind is filled with spinning thoughts and urges jumping around like the “a hyperactive or drunken monkey” — a Buddhist metaphor for the mind in distress. When agitation is triggered the overarching question becomes how does one calm the monkey?

There are numerous ways to enter calm: meditation, breathing, yoga, praying, walking in nature, journaling and on and on. The foundation though to all these practices is silence. When I was reading Gandhi’s writings over and over and over he returned to the practice of silence. Silence is critical to my own mental and personal health but I wanted to get some research to back up what I know to be true for me and apparently for Gandhi.

Huffington Post printed an article on March 5, 2016 entitled “Why Silence Is So Good for Your Brain” by Carolyn Gregoire a Senior Writer for HF. She wrote there are science-backed ways silence is good for your brain and how making time for silence can make you feel less stressed, more focused and more creative. The following points underscore the value of silence leading to calmness which is a gateway to the other “c” words that ground us in the light.

Silence replenishes our mental resources.

The ceaseless attentional demands of modern life put a significant burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in high-order thinking, decision-making and problem-solving.

As a result, our attentional resources become drained. When those attention resources are depleted, we become distracted and mentally fatigued, and may struggle to focus, solve problems and come up with new ideas.

But according to attention restoration theory, the brain can restore its finite cognitive resources when we’re in environments with lower levels of sensory input than usual. In silence — for instance, the quiet stillness you find when walking alone in nature — the brain can let down its sensory guard, so to speak.

In silence, we can tap into the brain’s default mode network.

The default mode network of the brain is activated when we engage in what scientists refer to as “self-generated cognition,” such as daydreaming, meditating, fantasizing about the future or just letting our minds wander.

When the brain is idle and disengaged from external stimuli, we can finally tap into our inner stream of thoughts, emotions, memories and ideas. Engaging this network helps us to make meaning out of our experiences, empathize with others, be more creative and reflect on our own mental and emotional states.

In order to do this, it’s necessary to break away from the distractions that keep us lingering on the shallow surfaces of the mind. Silence is one way of getting there.

Default mode activity helps us think deeply and creatively. As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Getting quiet can regenerate brain cells.

Silence can quite literally grow the brain. A 2013 study on mice, published in the journal Brain, Structure, and Function, involved comparing the effects of ambient noise, white noise, pup calls and silence on the rodents’ brains. Although the researchers intended to use silence as a control in the study, they found that two hours of silence daily led to the development of new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion.

So what can I do to restore calm in my mind? What can you do? We start by focusing on silence. Gandhi said sitting in silence thirty minutes each morning started his day well. If we cannot do thirty, perhaps we can do ten. When something tilts us over during the day perhaps we can find a quiet spot in a bathroom, a park bench, our car so that we can sit silently and breathe. At night lying silently in bed for thirty minutes with no electronics may calm those monkeys so we can sleep more peacefully.

There is no doubt the coming months will be challenging as President Obama hands over the office of the president to an inexperienced questionable team. We must set into place a practice of calmness into which we can retreat to rest and be filled before entering back into the noisy business of life.

PS I have learned my lesson and will no longer jump from bed to the computer in the morning. I am committing to thirty minutes of silence before my day begins. I have no doubt it will serve me well and open the way for creative thought and action in my personal, professional and political life.