Recently I’ve been gifted several weekends of absolute quiet. With two little boys under six, that’s the childless person’s equivalent of a 9 day holiday in the Maldives. (Or so I imagine).
Emerging from my quiet weekends my sleep is deeper, my brain works faster and my energy is more consistent. And that got wondering why.
“Think about silence as an emotional cleanse of the body,” Lisa Forrest told me over the phone recently.
The ex Olympian turned author, actor and journalist, Lisa now works as a mindfulness coach, via her business Evermind.
Cultivating moments of silence in daily life is fundamental to Lisa’s work.
“Even though I’ve been practicing mindfulness for more than six years, I still can’t help laughing at myself promoting silence as a transformative way of being – my coach used to call my have-a-chat when I swam! And yet, now I find myself craving silence if I haven’t made time for it in my day,” says Lisa.
Actually way better than a poke in your ribs
Lisa told Flying Solo that silence brings a refined awareness and quality of mind that quite literally feels spacious. Yet getting there can be hard at first.
A study from psychologists at the University of California revealed most people would quite literally prefer to be shot through with electric currents than spend time in their own thoughts.
According to Lisa getting comfortable with silence begins with getting mindful within our bodies.
“In MBSR this starts with the very first class when we do a body scan. The first thing the silence of the body scan reveals is just how tired most of us are. Once we acknowledge fatigue, we can make wise choices about how best to care for ourselves – the first step to avoid burnout,” says Lisa.
Like a juice cleanse for your brain
According to Lisa our brains feel better after extended periods of silence because it helps redirect our energy.
Just like juice cleanses help our body eliminate toxins by giving us a break from eating – taking a break from talking gives us an opportunity to process stored or blocked emotions.
“We start to notice the wandering mind and how often we tell the same stories. Once we hear just what stories are on high rotation and their role in the stress we’re feeling, we can choose which story to follow and which to let go,” says Lisa.
Lisa says her mindfulness courses focus on the Jon Kabat-Zinn belief that “the quality of mind that arises from paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgement.”
“MBSR focuses on up-skilling a person’s ability to notice the way they spend their time. By asking themselves, how does the way I am spending my silent time helping or hindering my stress levels? And, does it bring me joy?”
According to Lisa cultivating an awareness of our thought processes allows us the freedom to choose new and more nourishing ways to spend our quiet time.
“Any opportunity to have some silence in our lives is a great opportunity. And we are much better off spending our time being comfortable with silence, rather than coming up with ways to avoid it,” says Lisa.
Putting silence and mindfulness into daily practice
Lisa meditates for 30 minutes most days and practices one full day of silence every term throughout the year. She has also recently committed to annual five day silent retreats with incredible physical results.
“I never could have anticipated the benefits of giving my nervous system time to settle into stillness until my first retreat. I visited my osteopath just after that first one and she was astounded that my trapezius muscles (base of the neck) which usually takes a few dry needles to loosen up, were ‘like jelly’. What have you been doing, she asked, these are not the same shoulders?”
In addition to these things, Lisa also uses small moments throughout her day to cultivate a mindfulness practice.
“I’m usually awake before my alarm so I practice an awareness of breath before I get out of bed. I drink my first coffee of the day alone and in silence, tuning into the senses. I’ll drop in and feel my feet on the ground when I’m walking somewhere, or tune into the body if I’m waiting to cross the road,” she says.
“If I’m having lunch at home alone, I make it a mindful eating practice. And I swim three times a week and swimming mindfully – bringing my mind back again and again to the felt sensations of gliding through water – is sheer gorgeousness and very addictive!”
3 simple ways we can bring silence into our day
Lisa recommends starting with the things we do on a regular basis – and injecting a dose of mindfulness.
“Eating or drinking anything is improved by really paying attention – and whenever you notice your mind wandering just bring it back to the sensory experience of eating breakfast or drinking a glass of wine, a mindful shower is wonderful,” says Lisa.
“Likewise, a mindful walk – put the phone in your bag (or leave it at home) and instead look up and around at all that there is to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Anytime you can get some silence is a good thing and as your awareness increases so will the number of opportunities you get to practice it.”