I got on the bus on Friday evening for what would be a 45 minute journey – and my phone battery was nearly out. I got this minor sense of panic – what would I do with 45 minutes without podcasts, WhatsApp, email and all the other entertainments I could fill the time with? Was there a charging port on the bus? Why didn’t I charge it earlier? What would I do for the time? My brain was lit up with the idea of having free time. Think about that – I was uncomfortable to sit on a chair for a relatively short amount of time in between 2 social settings – teaching a class, and arriving home to see my family. I found myself surprised at the strength of my urge to keep my phone battery going for as long as possible – the urge to fill silence and space with content to somehow see the time spent as ‘worthwhile’.
This got me thinking about how I teach and practice in yoga classes. It’s really tempting to fill silences in classes, both when I’m teaching and practicing – fill it with instructions, music, thoughts, challenges. We live in a culture that promotes the idea that more is more, and with constant access to the internet through our phones – there is always more at hand at the touch of a button.
This sense of filling time and space with content is addictive – and there is a sound evolutionary process which has developed the foundation for this. Cognitive anthropologist Samuel Veissière researches this topic, stating that with many of our basic needs and cravings met, the reward centre of the brain is often in overdrive in contemporary culture – what he terms ‘hyper-connectivity’. This can become addictive with the use of smartphones- socialising is a natural and crucial element of our mental health and evolutionary survival. And the ability to socialise is available to us at a pace and scale that no other generation has faced before. In essence, our brains are in overdrive to fulfill what is a really natural urge – the urge to connect with others.
While connecting to others is healthy and normal, when it is done constantly it can lead to the habitual reflex of filling silences with content. Whether this means scrolling through your phone on the bus or constantly checking your emails at your desk, the brain is being trained to fill silence with a sense of connectivity.
This is what makes meditation and yoga such a crucial resource. Having time set aside without your phone and other distractions can give your brain and your body the time and space to practice silence. Learning to become comfortable in silence is essential in learning to be comfortable with yourself, and once that relationship is strengthened other connections will be much deeper as your mind becomes more present.
I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt with the idea of a silent 45 minutes without distractions. Sometimes the truth of how we feel or react doesn’t feel very good. But it has given me the gentle push I needed to increase my meditation time every day and allow for meditations without instruction and to allow more time for quieter and more restorative yoga classes each week- one step closer to training the brain to become more comfortable in silence and stillness.
If you feel uncomfortable in silences or moments of stillness in your day, get curious and ask yourself how you could introduce little doses of silence every day and what it would add to your happiness if those moments could be filled with presence and awareness.