During the Christmas season the usual noise level seems to rise in a crescendo, bringing with it a sense of hurry rather than the peace we associate with this festival.
We are rarely in a silent place with our own thoughts, and some people say they prefer it that way. Many of us reach for the TV remote or some music as soon as we awake in the morning, and the sounds continue until we go to sleep. But these days we do not sleep in silence if we live in a city – which most of us do. And when we go to work, it is often in open-plan offices where conversation, phones and traffic noises are an accepted background to our every waking moment.
It is not just the external noise that needs shutting off, but also the incessant chattering of our own thoughts. And we can learn to close these down and experience peace. A growing body of evidence shows that our brains need quiet time, which actually sharpens our thinking skills, and is essential for our mental and physical health. I really love this idea of downtime, and have always had a spiritual practice of prayer that has helped me over the years to be quiet. In fact, December is my slow-down month, when I ..look at the calendar and consider how much I truly must do as opposed to what I think I “should do.” I then cross out all the should-do things.
Studies show that this incessant noise is bad for our health, decreasing our ability to concentrate and increasing stress and blood pressure. And there is evidence that noise is not something our bodies ever get used to over time.
Take a moment to consider – when was the last time you were aware of total silence? What did it feel like? Alternatively, when were you aware of just the sounds of nature, without a single mechanical or human sound? What did that feel like? Total silence is quite scary for many of us. Others yearn to be out in nature, hearing the call of the loon or the whisper of the wind in the trees.
For those of us fortunate to be able to get out into the wilderness, it can be a deeply spiritual experience. Increasing numbers of people refer to the wilderness as their church. Mind/body medicine physician Doctor Lissa Rankin, for example, made a comment on Facebook: “Just finished hiking in the redwoods of Muir Woods. It’s my church – what’s yours?”
In all cultures there are spiritual practices that bring peace – meditation, prayer, yoga, spiritual retreats, nature practices.
One of the main gifts from the Christmas season is not so much its celebration but the opportunity it presents to learn more about the deep and true meaning of peace, and to practice peace. Jesus took much time alone in the wilderness, and his example speaks deeply to our need for quietness and aloneness – both within and without. When teaching about the practice of prayer, he said, “When you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you.” This seems counter-intuitive to the noisy celebrations of Christmas, but 2,000 years later the message is needed more than ever.
So, this Christmas take some time to be quiet – to shut the door – and in the silence to feel a sense of peace and reassurance – a divine connection that is always there, even if we aren’t listening at the moment. It may take some practice, but the healing rewards are unlimited.
What’s your quiet place – your “church” – where you can spiritually revive? What is the spiritual practice that brings you peace?