It goes from 11:53 pm, to 11:54pm, to 11:55 pm.
Here I lie, trying to sleep.
I attempt to quiet my body and mind, when the blaring sound of our neighboring train station’s latest freight carrier comes blasting through my cracked window.
Between its forced entry and aptitude for inspiring fear, it's like a home intruder.
It’s always these hours; it’s always these moments when I'm longing for silence.
Yet when the same silence presents itself throughout my day, I'm often urged to fill it.
I plug in. I turn on. I turn up.
I make conversation, even if I have little to no interest in the words flying out of my own mouth.
I just can’t bear the awkward quiet between us, or worse, the quiet alone with myself.
What is so stirring about something so still?
Silence allows us to finally hear ourselves.
The inner monologue that persists all day long, ordinarily drowned out by the bustle of work and constant outside stimuli, suddenly takes up soliloquy.
If you're like me, that experience can initially be somewhat scary, simply because we don't know what lies beneath.
But don’t fret.
I’ve come up with some tips and tricks on how to fill the scary silence.
1. Fill it with gratitude.
Find three or four things or people for whom you are grateful every day, and let your thanks radiate.
Write a card with sincere recollection and appreciation of what each of these people represents to you.
There is just something about hand-written correspondence that moves people.
It not only makes you feel special to receive one, but it's especially rewarding to give.
And written correspondence often has a positive ripple effect.
2. Fill it with forward-thinking.
Find something to look forward to, however simple it may be.
Think of a favorite meal, a new hobby or an upcoming event.
Be careful not to wander too far ahead in your thoughts, or you may find yourself fraught with anxiety instead of filled with joy at the thought of what is to come.
Set a goal for yourself, and take active steps toward it.
If it seems out of your control, meditate on what good may be just minutes ahead.
3. Fill it with wonder.
Reclaim that unbridled and childlike curiosity about everything.
Find joy in the discovery of new things once more.
Do not stop asking "why," but remind yourself it's okay to be uncertain, to be unsure and to not have the answer.
If you knew everything, you would cease to wonder at all.
4. Fill it with art.
Make something new.
If you struggle in silence, perhaps there's something inside you just fighting to find its way out, and words are simply not the appropriate medium.
Explore unfamiliar mediums you may not be comfortable with.
Many good things —and certainly masterpieces — do not come easily, and there's little room to grow when one is reluctant to step out of his or her comfort zone.
I once asked a young boy to tell me about art. His reply was short and sharp: “If it hurts, you’re doing it right.”
5. Fill it with love.
Seek out good company and enjoy it for that express purpose: company.
Sit together in silence, and share in each other’s energy.
Exchange breath. Make eye contact. Touch. Enjoy your own company.
William James was right in noting some of the most valuable and vital experiences are also the most readily overlooked, with his examples being thinking and breathing.
In "The Will To Believe," he wrote:
Just as we feel no particular pleasure when we breathe freely, but a very intense feeling of distress when the respiratory motions are prevented [...] any perfectly fluent course of thought awakens but little feeling; but when the movement is inhibited, or when the thought meets with difficulties, we experience distress. It is only when the distress is upon us that we can be said to strive, to crave, or to aspire.
In this passage, James reminds us of the benefits of discomfiture.
So when we view silence as distressing, our natural resistance and urge to fill it may actually prove to be the starting point of something quite spectacular.
This is, of course, only if we can come to appreciate this driving quality of silence.
We should stop trying to fill it with noise, and rather try to fill it with something spectacular.
Fill it with gratitude, the limitless future, wonder, art and love.