Summer adventure led me to one of the youngest islands in the world – Iceland. This frontier land of fire and ice, as Icelanders call it, is also a land of wonder and astonishing silence. The absence of trees covering most of the volcanic land mass results in few birds chirping, creating a void that was unfamiliar, yet alluring. Miles of lava rock and the marsh-like moss created a sound barrier providing a deafening silence to the terrain. For me, this silence was intoxicating.
On a daily basis, we are surrounded by a digital world and urbanization far from true peace. Silence is necessary for us to recuperate from a frenetic world and to foster intuition. Silence in downtime may elicit feelings of guilt, yet the exact opposite is true: silence is a significant tool in self-healing.
The Global Wellness Summit, which is comprised of 500 wellness experts from 45 nations, gathers annually to discuss the future of wellness. For 2017, they identified eight industry trends and silence therapy was one of them emerging in spas and wellness centers as silent restaurants, silent meals, and silent spa treatments. It is no surprise that silence is increasingly selling: from noise cancelling headphones to tourism campaigns such as Finland’s tagline reading “Silence Please,” luring travelers to visit. A Duke University study found that two hours of silence daily results in significant cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory. As both depression and dementia are associated with the hippocampus, it’s possible that silence therapy may help these conditions.
Countless cultures honor silence as a pathway to greater introspection and strengthening intuition. Imagine that over 500 years ago Polynesian navigators made countless voyages across the open sea using only their intuition, experience and vision of the ocean – without a GPS or digital device! With the influx of technology we have forgotten how to use our senses. In the Icelandic culture intuition is referred to as innsaei. There are three connotations to this word. It means “to see within” or to know one’s self. A second explanation is “to see from the inside out” which is to have a strong inner compass. The final definition means “the sea within.” This last definition recognizes the borderless nature of our inner world and that a part of nature is within us. It is impossible to quiet the mind and establish a relationship with silence without a connection with nature. Nature is the inner eye, the inner ear, and the source of intuition.
Our innermost sanctum must be free from the environmental pollutants of ambient noise so that we can listen to the silence within ourselves, and thereby understand what silence is trying to tell us. There is a message in this silence more powerful than words. In the Japanese culture silence is synonymous with “truthfulness.” Our ability to hold silence dear in our everyday life may very well determine our future happiness.