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Why you need more quiet (and how to make room for it)

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We live in a world full of noise, while all we need is silence. That’s what the Vietnamese zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his new book on silence.

Can’t we have some silence for just one moment? No. At least, not in our minds. Music, noise, talking colleagues, social media. And above all that, our own unstoppable thoughts. ‘Radio NST’, is what the Buddhist zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls it in his new book on silence. It means Radio Non Stop Thinking, a channel that your brain tunes in to all the time and that sends a continuous stream of thoughts through your brain (as if that weren’t enough: it’s mostly negative ones).

Is that a bad thing? Yes. All this unrest leaves no room for ‘inner silence’, the silence of not-thinking. And this inner silence is every bit as essential for your mind as sleep is for your body. ‘Without silence in yourself, and with a mind and body filled with noise, you can’t hear beauty’s call’, according to Thich Nhat Hanh. Besides, you get estranged from yourself. For instance, how can you listen to your heart, when radio NST keeps blaring? ‘Your heart calls you. Your heart tries to tell you something, but you couldn’t hear it because your head was filled with noise.’

Thundering silence

Mindfulness is Thich Nhat Hanh’s covering theme, and it’s the topic of his new book on silence. He detects that because of this persistent stream of sounds, information and thoughts, we don’t get around to just being every once in a while. The sort of being you experience during a walk outside, when you’re relaxed, breath deeply in and out and listen very carefully to all the sounds around you. That’s when you’re in ‘thundering silence’. It’s these moments when you are truly connected to the world, Thich Nhat Hanh explains. ‘You choose what you want to listen to and what you want to be. Your breathing. Rain or wind. When you’re connected to these refreshing and healing elements, you just are, and you’re not your thoughts.’

How to turn off Radio NST

You might also call it a ‘refuel’. Of course, this sounds easier than it is. You’re not the only one whose thoughts of ‘peaceful and happy’ keep being disturbed by Radio NST’s emergency signals: ‘I never have a moment to myself!’

What to do? Intervene, because silence doesn’t come magically. It helps to just temper the external noise, by shutting off the radio and the television for an hour and hiding the smartphone in the laundry basket. But how to find inner silence?

It’s a matter of practice, according to Thich Nhat Hanh. Not-thinking is an art, that, just like other art forms, needs patience and practice. And just like other skills, it doesn’t require hours of practice in a row, as long as you do it every day. For instance, like this:

1.   Meditate, by sitting peacefully for a few minutes (preferably in silence) and focusing on your breath.

2.   Make sure that you’re early for every appointment, and focus on the environment for half a minute: the surroundings, the sounds, what you see, what it feels like to be there.

3.   Do something with your hands, like a job around the house, make music, or do something else that makes you forget everything around you.

After all, making your thoughts stop isn’t all that hard. Ten or twenty seconds a time is fine. If you can pause a few times during every busy day, it makes a lot of difference. It’s times like these when radio NST is shut off. And then you find it: an oasis of quiet, in a world filled with noise.

Want to read more?

Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Silence – The Power of Quiet in a World full of Noise’.

Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Ariel Lustre