Want to Feel More Alive? Be Quiet!

I am participating in an online conference for trauma treatment professionals and one of the speakers today (Bessel van der Kolk) referenced research that demonstrates that the part of the brain that allows us to take in experience – to experience experience, as it were – is bypassed or just not activated, when we begin to talk, because language requires use of a different part of the brain.

I thought this was really interesting…basically he’s saying that we cannot fully access our direct experience and talk about it at the same time. That makes sense…we already know that we cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. It makes me wonder what that means about thought, whether thoughts interrupt access to experience, as in meditation. The speaker recommended that to be more fully connected internally, we should all just “shut up”. No surprise then, that he’s a big proponent of meditation and yoga.

His comment made me laugh, and it also made me think back to my own experiences in meditation, in work, in therapy, in being with clients, and I think he is right. I’ve noticed a visceral shift when I begin to speak that seems to match up with what might be the process of moving from one part of the brain to the other. It’s almost as though I’ve suddenly shifted into another version of myself.

This means all sorts of things for me in work and practice, but what you can take from it is that if you want to be more present, feel more connected, and more fully alive to your own experience, you must spend some time being quiet. You have to have periods of silence in order to activate and therefore grow this part of your brain that will strengthen your ability to connect to yourself and register your own experience.

I know everyone is different, and perhaps there are some people who just cannot sit in silence. I am starting to think, though, that “not being able to” is more likely “haven’t done it very much”, and therefore the brain capacity for it is not well-developed. That would match up with people’s reported experience of boredom with silence – if they aren’t very able to connect with or notice their own internal experience because that part of the brain is underdeveloped, then it really would be boring!

I continue to encourage everyone with any interest in it, or who isn’t already as happy as they can be, to spend time, however small, in silence each day. I’ve seen research touting benefit from as little as 3 minutes per day of practice. You can start with 1 minute 3 times per day, if it suits you. Or you could experiment with talking less in different settings to see what you notice.

That’s not a huge commitment. What’ve you got to lose?

Just be quiet, and see what happens.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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