It was one of the noisiest wards in the hospital – TVs blaring from almost every room, alarms beeping urgently, nurses shouting to each other down the corridor, patients yelling out or screaming, sometimes for hours. From time to time, family members would become overwhelmed and start shouting at the staff or their loved ones. On my second day there, a mother was standing in the corridor, literally howling with despair. The patients all had severe acquired brain injuries, and some had only recently come out of a coma or post-traumatic amnesia. They drifted in and out, trying to orient themselves to their new surroundings. At the weekly multi-disciplinary meetings, the discussion was often about not over-stimulating these patients, giving them short therapy sessions and then allowing them to rest in peace and quiet, so their brains would be able to assimilate the new information. Everyone agreed this was the right treatment plan, but didn’t seem to notice that the environment offered very little in the way of peace and quiet. There were some sources of noise which little could be done about – the beeping alarms, patients yelling out. Yet did there really need to be a TV at full volume in every communal area, when patients had their own in their rooms? Did the staff really need to communicate by yelling down the corridors?
We live in a society where the notion of silence is so alien, that even a team of dedicated medical professionals, who recommend it as part of their treatment plan, seem unable to find a way to encourage it. It’s not just injured brains which benefit from time out to rest and process their experiences. We can all use some restorative spaces in our lives, times of minimal stimulation. Yet the busier we get, the harder it can seem to cultivate regular oases of silence in our lives. How much we need depends on factors such as our personality and cultural background. If you’re very introverted, you might find yourself yearning for a great deal of peace and quiet, and perhaps feeling guilty about this need in our busy, 24/7 society. But even the most outgoing extrovert can benefit from finding some time to take stock and recharge the batteries.
In her excellent book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World which can’t stop Talking’, Susan Cain talks about finding ‘restorative spaces’ in our lives. What this looks like, how often we need them, the consequences of not allowing them in our lives – these vary widely, and it’s up to us as individuals, through trial and error, to become familiar with the signals for our need for some time out, for silence. There will be times in our lives when we may need very little, and others where a three year silent retreat in a Himalayan cave can suddenly seem quite tempting! Some weeks, our lives might be so hectic, it’s difficult to find even five minutes. But those five minutes, when we take them, can make all the difference.
Weekly practice idea:
What are some of your signals that you may be needing a restorative ‘time out’? If you’re feeling over-stimulated, what are some simple changes you can make to reduce the stimulation? Do you notice a difference when you do?