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Dealing With the Noise in Our Heads

External and internal noise can be stressful, but the latter can be minimalized.

After returning to my quiet West Coast town recently after visiting family in New York and Miami, I realized how much I treasure silence. It seemed as if every restaurant back there had music blaring, and when walking down the street, most of the hipsters wore headphones. Does silence hurt these people? Is this a way to keep the world out, or a way to escape the pain of their own world?

I love making homemade soup, so today at lunch I used my Blend-Tec to make what my family calls “green soup,” a collection of fresh vegetables from my refrigerator. Today’s menu had leeks, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and a few slices of fresh ginger. The chopping is relatively quiet, but only when I turned on the machine did I realize how the smallest bit of noise has become bothersome to me ever since my kids left home. After blending the soup and pouring myself a cup, I went to read my holistic physician’s newsletter. This week’s subject was “The Healing Power of Silence.” Dr. Soram Khalsa gave me a great subject for this week’s blog because I think we’re all affected by both sound and silence.

He started out by saying, “Noise exists all around us, externally in the form of things like traffic, television, and cell phones [and blenders], and internally in the form of constant thoughts.”

We don’t often think of the noise in our heads, but more and more of us are beginning to believe that our internal thoughts (the noise in our heads) might be stressing us out, and have more detrimental effects on our health than external noises do. These noises could include worry, anger, fear, and anxiety; and can also be very draining on our limbic and neurological systems.

It’s great that more and more people are finding the value in meditation practice. My practice began in the 1970s with transcendental meditation, which I’ve been doing on and off for a number of years, but since starting my doctorate studies in psychology, I’ve been meditating at least three times a day. Meditation is a way to quiet the internal noise, soothe the mind, and relax the mind and body. Some of the benefits of meditation include:

There are many different ways to meditate, and there really is no right or wrong way to do so. Some methods suggest focusing on the breath, others suggest concentrating on a sound, and others are more easily guided with music. Each individual must find what works best for him or her. Over the years I’ve tried different methods and sometimes I mix them up, but the approach that I find simplest to follow and which takes me the deepest is to have complete silence around me and focus on my breath. Here are specific examples of meditation techniques:

Breathing meditation:

  • Bring your awareness to your breath and watch it go in and out.
  • When you no longer observe your breath, return to it.
  • Body awareness meditation:
  • This helps you get more present in the moment.
  • Pay attention to the feeling and weight of your body.
  • Walking meditation:
  • Do this meditation while walking, and also focus on your body.
  • Knitting meditation:
  • Focus on the act of knitting, noticing how the left and right needles move back and forth.
  • As you feel the yarn gliding through your fingers, enter into a relaxed state.

Here are some general meditation guidelines:

  • Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day, preferably at the same time of day.
  • Sit or lie down in a relaxed position wearing comfortable clothes.
  • Start with a centering ritual (that is, lighting a candle, getting in a certain position, closing the door).
  • While meditating, do not resist your thoughts; let them come and go at will.
  • If possible, breathe through your nose.
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