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  • In today's world, it can feel like there's no space for silence.

  • Like we're always required to be responding to something, to be saying something new.

  • Whether that's answering a text or an email, a tweet, a WhatsApp message, or even the phone.

  • My name's Harriet Shawcross. I'm a filmmaker and a journalist, and I think we would all benefit from a little bit more silence in our lives.

  • [What We Can Learn From Silence]

  • One of the reasons I'm interested in silence, and in what can and can't be said, is that when I was a teenager, there was about a year when I didn't really talk to people at school.

  • I would answer direct questions if a teacher asked them or I would read out loud, but the kind of communication that makes us humanspontaneous conversation, sharing jokeswas something that I wasn't able to do.

  • And it had a huge impact on me and was really formative in terms of how I relate to people both professionally and personally.

  • So what's so great about silence?

  • While in the course of researching my book, I came across several studies into the impact that silence can have on both the body and the brain.

  • In one study involving mice, silence was shown to promote the growth of brain cells in the part of the brain responsible for memory related to the senses.

  • Scientists played mice a selection of sounds, including baby mouse cries, white noise, and silence, and observed that during silence there was cell growth in the hippocampus.

  • Another study looked at the impact of listening to music on the body and the researchers found that if silence was inserted into a track of music,

  • the blood pressure dropped, the heart rate reduced and the subject relaxed much more than when listening to a relaxing piece of music.

  • This only happened when the silence was inserted in the middle of the tune itself.

  • It didn't work for silence at the beginning or end of the experiment.

  • So there's something about silence that comes in the middle of noise that's particularly beneficial.

  • So silence can also enable people to actually say things that they've never been able to say before.

  • I looked into the formation of the Samaritans, a support service for people that are feeling despairing or suicidal.

  • The service was set up in the 50s by a vicar, and he started it because he had to conduct the funeral of a young girl who had taken her own life.

  • The reason she took her own life is that she'd started her periods and thought she'd contracted some terrible disease and was dying.

  • She was deeply ashamed of what was happening to her and had no one to talk to about it.

  • It was this that inspired the vicar, Chad Varah, to set up the Samaritans as he didn't want people to feel that there were things that they couldn't talk about, particularly things that they were ashamed of.

  • He believed that you should be able to sit with someone, no matter what they're going through, without feeling the need to answer back or offer solutions or problem solve.

  • And a really central way of doing that is through using silence and giving them space to explain what's going on for them.

  • And frankly, if normal conversations could involve a little bit more silence like that, I think the world would be a much happier place.

  • So silence is also at the heart of most major world religions.

  • In Buddhism silence is really highly valued and conversation can be seen as something that gets in the way of our experiences.

  • And if you strip away all of that language, you're left with a deeper understanding of your own experiences in the world and your connection to other people.

  • But can too much silence be a bad thing?

  • There's a condition known as Assidy, which was experienced by monks who spent prolonged periods in silence, and it's basically distinguished by a feeling of torpor, of not being able to do anything,

  • and that's specifically associated with spending long periods of time without speaking to anybody.

  • I also spoke to people who had spent more time than probably most of us would want to in silence.

  • One of them was a Buddhist who spent nine months on a silent and solitary retreat, and the silence had a really profound effect on him.

  • After a certain amount of time, he felt like he was losing control of both his mind and his body.

  • He actually felt like he was having a heart attack.

  • He knew logically he'd just pulled a muscle in his chest, but without anyone to say, "I've pulled a muscle in my chest" to, the pain that he was feeling, the sensations of panic meant that he actually really thought that he was dying,

  • and the only way that he could snap out of that was by calling a friend of his.

  • And it was only once he had words and language to attach to what was happening to him that he was able to make sense of it and eventually feel better.

  • So that Buddhist actually described silence to me as being like loveit's something that, instinctively, we all feel we want and need in our lives, but silence, like love, is a really strong medicine, and it can actually completely tear you apart.

  • Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed that, be sure to check out these videos next. And if you haven't already, hit the subscribe button and click the bell to get a notification each time we upload a new video.

In today's world, it can feel like there's no space for silence.

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What would happen if we embraced silence a bit more? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/18
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