Why we all need some peace and quiet
Modern life is becoming increasingly noisy. But if we learn to to spend time in silence, the effects on our mental wellbeing – and our physical health – can be profound. Gerard Gilbert turns the sound down
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Volume control: The writer Gerard Gilbert, like many of us, finds daily life is getting noisier
Silence is golden, as The Tremeloes sang – but is it, in fact, much rarer than gold? It certainly felt that way on the way to work this morning as I tried to negotiate with an estate agent on my mobile, while holding a call from my wife and blocking the noise of London rush-hour traffic. What is this epidemic of busyness and noise doing to our bodies and souls?
These questions are addressed by a new TV series, The Big Silence, an experiment in aural detoxification made by BBC religious programming, led by Abbot Christopher Jamison of Worth Abbey, West Sussex. As a Benedictine monk, Jamison is steeped in the Catholic tradition of the contemplative life, but he is convinced everyone in the "real" world can also benefit from hush. "Silence is something people fear or avoid," he says. "Life would be transformed for the better if we could embrace silence."
In the series, five Britons – Carrie, David, Helen, Jon and Trish – all of whom have high-pressured jobs and hectic lives surrounded by the white noise of internet, text, mobile phone and multimedia – volunteer to spend eight days in a Jesuit retreat in North Wales. Apart from one daily discussion with a spiritual guide and when they dictate a video diary, they are immersed in utter silence.
"They have nobody to meet except themselves," says Jamison. "Some people crack under the pressure. People often think it's going to be wonderfully refreshing. But the reality is very different – if we spend times in silence we bump into our very deepest selves."
Indeed each of the volunteers, in varying degrees, "cracks". Grumpy complaints of being lonely and bored are superseded by rebellion and finally an unexpectedly shattering emotional/spiritual experience that promises to change their lives forever.
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From The Urantia Book: (Judaism)
He who rules his own spirit is mightier than he who takes a city. Says the Lord God, the Holy One: 'In returning to your spiritual rest shall you be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.' They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint. The Lord shall give you rest from your fear. Says the Lord: 'Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.' 131:2.6