The Power of Silence in a Chaotic World

Ways to keep calm

Do you ever feel as though you’re running like the proverbial chicken without a head?

Maybe not always, but sometimes or even often?

Many times it feels like my litany of tasks wants to flap around like chicken feathers fighting for flight. The responsibilities quite often seem (and are) endless.

I’m sure you know the feeling.

And that doesn’t even take into account whatever current insanity or horror is happening in the world around us. You know those things—the ones that capture the emotion and focus and, well, there just went another minute or hour of the day.

You probably don’t have a lot of time to waste like that either.

And keeping sane in the midst of chaos can feel like a fantasy. You feel like you’re banging your head against a wall.

So what are some ways to keep calm as you plough through your day?

The very best one I know is meditation. Which always seems counter-productive to my monkey mind. “What do you mean?” it squawks. “You have way too much to do to sit in silence!”

And sadly, I confess, I sometimes let it convince me.

Because one thing I know for true is silence provides the most effective antidote to any sort of chaos in the world.

How do I know?

Not just from my own anecdotal evidence, and that of others, but now we have reams of scientific (via brain scans) proof.

World-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richie Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds, U of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleagues have found amazing results regarding the power of silence and the mind.

“Even short amounts of practice can induce changes in the brain,”

Dr. Davidson

Short amounts meaning 30 minutes of meditation a day. And these changes can be tracked on a brain scanner.

Okay, that tweaks me. Doesn’t it you?

To begin with, here’s what they found:

Increased Grey Matter in these key areas:

Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Among its functions are self-regulation, including attention and cognitive flexibility.

Sign me up for more of that!

Prefrontal Cortex. This area is primarily responsible for planning, problem solving, and regulating the emotions.

Not that any of us have to worry about those. Right?

Hippocampus. Part of the limbic system, this holds sway over learning and memory. It’s also highly susceptible to stress and stress-related disorders such as depression and PTSD.

Not that any of us have any stress in our lives . . .

Also the fight-or-flight center of the brain, the Amygdala, decreases in size after meditation.

Did all of that get your attention? Boy, it did mine. I mean, I know meditating puts me in a different place. But I love when I can learn how it scientifically does so. And how enormous are its benefits.

So what’s the magic formula? How much meditation is required? See—there’s my monkey mind again, asking exactly how much it has to invest!

The good news is, not that much! In fact, surprisingly little. This study found that only 10 minutes per day over a 16 week period showed significant improvements in focus and attention.

A gazillion ways exist for useful mediation. The key is to pick one. And do it.

So what’s the number-one factor for meditative effectiveness?

Consistency. As in daily.

What tweaked me the most was, however, the added bonus. The connection between the Me Center (the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex), involved in processing those people we see as different from us, and the bodily sensation center involved with empathy, grows stronger with meditation.

This enhances the ability to understand where another is coming from. Increasing the ability to empathize, to feel compassion.

Well. That certainly slays my excuses!

No wonder those Buddhists are so compassionate.

So, what do you have to lose? Even I can find 10 minutes in my day. And when I do, I don’t need scientific studies to prove what it does for my life.

How do you find silence in this crazy world?

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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48 comments
Renee groskreutz says August 31, 2016

Gosh, I get that this is important and so many people say that it has changed them but doing it…..ughhh It seems to hard but I will try.

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maria @closetohome says August 31, 2016

I feel like I love the hours the kids are back in school but the chaos happens in the afternoon. I need to escape sometimes in my room with door shut.

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Julie Mason says August 31, 2016

Yes. Silence is important. I take time every morning to sit quietly and listen to nature.

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    Susan Malone says August 31, 2016

    Ah, isn’t listening to nature heavenly, Julie? It’s one of the best ways to experience silence I know . . .

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Kristi Brown says August 31, 2016

YES! I actually learned to Scuba dive recently, because I needed this silence in a crazy world! I meditate as well, but, from someone that seems to always be thinking, that silence is refreshing, needed and I find myself more creative and productive after taking advantage of it.

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    Susan Malone says August 31, 2016

    Isn’t scuba diving wonderful for silence, Kristi! Snorkeling as well, but there’s nothing like the quiet twenty feet under 🙂

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Jolina says August 31, 2016

Ah thanks for the reminder! I used to meditate A LOT but haven’t do so lately. Maybe that’s why I feel overstretched and all over the place. I believe in the power of meditation, I immediately feel better about the world after!

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    Susan Malone says August 31, 2016

    Isn’t it true, Jolina! I can almost watch myself spin into chaos by how many does go by without meditation.

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Beverley Golden says August 31, 2016

And to think how meditation was scoffed at back in the 60’s when people like the Beatles, (and of course many, many others), introduced it to Western culture! I admit that I am more of an active meditator, meaning walking meditation or cloud watching or gardening. I am very proud of myself, as recently I signed up for the 21-day meditation that Oprah and Deepak offer for free, (and it’s not the first time I signed up if I’m honest), but it is the first time I actually did all 21 days…in a row! It is definitely something I know I would be wise to practice ongoing, so thanks for the reminder of why it really is a must in all of our lives! The proof of its benefits is quite phenomenal!

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    I just love those Deepak/Oprah meditations too, Beverley. I often buy the sets when done 🙂 And walking mediation is one of my very favs!

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Reba Linker says August 31, 2016

I think a change in scenery, while not the same as silence, is a great way to quiet the monkey mind, and come back refreshed and renewed. A silence practice is absolutely a beautiful thing. Thanks for this lovely post.

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    I do too, Reba. I just returned from a five-day trip to Biloxi, and my mind is so clear and refreshed. Thanks for that reminder!

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Sabrina Quairoli says August 31, 2016

I have meditated for several years now on and off. Whenever I haven’t done it for a while. I realize that it takes longer to stay focused on meditating. So starting with 5 minutes feels like forever. But eventually I can get to 10 minutes. I noticed listening to my deep breathing seems to work and keep me focused. Thanks for sharing.

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    Isn’t watching your breath such a great mediation tool, Sabrina. And so true–regular practice makes the focus so much easier!

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Tamuria says August 31, 2016

The sounds of silence – wonderful. I didn’t know the science behind quiet meditation but I’ve felt its positive effects, and the negative ones when I neglect it. This post has given me renewed enthusiasm for including it as part of my daily routine.

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    I have that same anecdotal evidence, Tamuria. Ah, the positive effects when I do it! And how off track my mind gets when I don’t . . .

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Rachel Lavern says August 31, 2016

When I began reading this post Susan, I immediately thought that meditation would be the remedy. That or mindful breathing working for me. Have you heard the quote, “Meditate for an hour every day unless you are too busy. In that case meditate for two hours” ( don’t recall who said it)?

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    I know that quote too, Rachel! And ain’t it the truth 🙂 I just know it as an old Zen proverb.

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Roslyn Tanner Evans says August 31, 2016

The one meditation style that attracts me is a guided one, but I prefer sitting on my deck, quietly, solo, & I focus on nature in front of me. Instant relaxation which works. Like many things that are good for us, it requires taking the first step, practicing and consistency.

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    Isn’t staring at nature a perfect way, Roz. I use that one too!

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Brandy says September 1, 2016

What a powerful and wonderful post to share for sure, glad you wrote this and hope it inspires others!

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Colleen M. Story says September 1, 2016

Great reminder, Susan. I’m aware of all the benefits but don’t always remember to sit down and do it!

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Lori English says September 1, 2016

Dear Susan,
A great article really enjoyable article loved the information about discussing the brain and the components of compassion and empathy . Pre-Frontal cortex and the amygdala very interesting biological responses are interesting to all types of behavior and personalities.
Thank You,
Lori English

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    The brain is just fascinating, isn’t it, Lori! The part that tweaked me the most was about the components of compassion and empathy too. Just amazing.

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Joan M Harrington says September 1, 2016

I do not use meditation to get quiet, I just use no noise (tv no sound) just listening to the silence and the quiet, it seems to really help me think and just be more peaceful 🙂

Great share and food for thought Karen about using mediation to find that peaceful place 🙂

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Nicole Escat says September 2, 2016

I love meditating especially if I am done. the power of silence is very effective.

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    Silence is powerful, isn’t it, Nicole. And it takes such a small amount of time.

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Courtneylynne says September 3, 2016

I’m all about the silence!!! Meditation and clearing my mind are big parts of my life!

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Karen says September 3, 2016

I definitely suggest meditation for my clients. I myself, try to practice it daily. The thing is meditation can take many forms. I am not always consistent and fall out of the habit, but when I do it, I notice the difference. Thanks for pointing out the benefits. Can you image if everyone meditated, how our world would be different?

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    That reminds me, Karen, of something I heard Wayne Dyer said oh-so-long ago. That if he had the power to do one thing for world peace, he’d have everyone stand in meditation at the same time. Peace would be guaranteed . . .

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Elizabeth O says September 4, 2016

Such an intuitive, calming thing to do yet, so many don’t get the practice. Taking time to be quiet, reflective, and meditative helps with centering and creativity. Millions have used it for eons and I’m confident that many more will add this simple practice to their routine in years to come. 🙂

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    And for eons we had the anecdotal evidence, didn’t we, Elizabeth. Don’t you love how science comes along and explains why!

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Joan Potter says September 4, 2016

Susan – this is so true. I’m a rural person who loves to visit the city often. I know lots of people who could simply not live where I spend 1/2 my time in Valentine, NE. The nearest Walmart is a couple hours’ drive away, and life seems fairly mundane. Many people, I think, would just go bonkers doing what I do. But, honestly, what in the heck is wrong with them? Because incessant beeping horns and close, noisy neighbors and cacophony from every angle is, to me, the very definition of stress. Give me silence any day!

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    Susan Malone says September 6, 2016

    We are so on the same track, Joan! I live in the country, and ahhhh . . . the sounds of silence!

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Jackie Harder says September 6, 2016

Um…do they have to be 10 consecutive minutes? And does sleeping count? 🙂 Good stuff here, Susan. Thanks for sharing. And I will take those 10 minutes of silence. It would be great if those minutes could happen on my morning walk. I do try to be present during those 20 minutes. I’m not sure I could get my brain to go completely silent under any cirumstances!

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Jennifer Quisenberry says September 6, 2016

This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings from Gandhi. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it boiled down to him having so much to do that day that he needed to meditate twice as long to be able to accomplish his goals.

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Joyce Hansen says September 6, 2016

One of the things I can add to this Susan is that there is something going on at a deeper level whether you consider it meditation or silence. As we exist in our daily world, our bodies down to the deepest cellular level are vibrating to the energy around us. It’s one of the contributing factors of why people have difficulty falling asleep. It takes a while for the body to lower the vibration it has been functioning at during the day. By taking time out to meditate or be silent. allows the body and mind to lower it’s cellular vibration and take some pressure off. Good meditators can keep this lower vibration even when they are operating in an environment that has chaos. Which makes it worth the practice.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    Absolutely, Joyce. That reminds me of a study, which I need to go find again, that found people residing in the country lived longer because of that lower vibration. Thank you for the reminder!

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Rachel Lavern says November 16, 2016

Hi Susan,

My favorite thing to do when life becomes chaotic is to take a long walk all by myself through a forest or along the beach. I find this very calming and grounding. The problem is–someone always wants to accompany me, which defeats the entire purpose.

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