“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?” Perhaps the more important question is how can we avoid listening?
While it may be the season for sleigh bells and Christmas carols and the ho-ho’s of holiday Santas, we have all experienced the constant barrage of holiday sounds—the voices of too many people in a crowded mall, the honking horns of tired, short-tempered shoppers who just want to get home, and the piped music meant to encourage holiday spending—that more often contributes to stress and overwhelm than to a true enjoyment of the season.
In the noise of 21st century technology, it is important for us to remember the need for silence—for our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. Silence is important to the health of our nervous systems. Were you ever in a hospital nursery or around a newborn baby? Any sudden loud noise triggers the infant’s startle reflex. The baby’s arms and legs thrust out as if to push away the offending noise, the eyes go wide to take in the impending danger, and the infant often wails an alert.
Our arms and legs may not go into contortions, but the unending onslaught of noise from our vehicles, appliances, entertainment, and computers, definitely affects our nervous system. Studies have shown that continuous noise assault can cause nausea, headaches, and sleeplessness. No wonder, then, that so many of us get sick at the holiday season.
In recent years, by the time I sit down next to our tree to unwrap gifts with my husband and three sons on Christmas morning, I am heartily sick of Christmas music, whether religious, classical, or popular. One more time of hearing how I know Dasher and Dancer, and I am tempted to dash something at the CD player! For not only have I been hearing holiday music for weeks in every store I walk into, whether for groceries, prescriptions, or Christmas gifts, but I have heard it in gas stations while I pump gas, on the elevator while going to a doctor’s appointment, and on one television ad after another.
I love music and the moods and memories it can evoke, but I also love—and value—silence. And at this time of year, with its hectic schedules, unending to-do lists, and constant partying, silence keeps me sane.
Here, in the foothills of the Catskills, it is, after all, nature’s season of silence. The songbirds have wisely headed south for the winter. The buzz of bees in the garden, the chirps of crickets in the field, and the croaking of frogs in the pond behind my house have yielded to the silent fall of snow.
From my studio window where I weave and write, working to meet deadlines, the silence of the winter landscape beckons me to leave my frantic activity and step outside where the healing balm of silence can do its work.
Standing on my patio, I breathe in the quiet of the pristine blanket of snow, and breathe out the inner noise and tension of holiday expectations. I breathe in the slowing-down air of hibernating bears and other animals, and breathe out the worry about getting all the shopping and card writing done on time. I breathe in the stoic letting go of the leafless trees and breathe out the belief that if I don’t do everything—the wrapping of gifts, the baking of countless meals, and the attending of numerous social events—that both the holidays and I will be failures. With each deep breath, I move from superficial holiday busy-ness into true seasonal celebration.
Returning inside to my studio, I carry my renewed inner silence into the welcome quiet of my creative space. I light incense, and in that scented silence, I can once again hear the whispers of my creative muses. For me, weaving in silence becomes a meditation. Like beads on a rosary, each thread threaded through the heddle, each pass of the shuttle through the warp is like another prayer bead clicked through in my litany. I am refreshed and renewed.
‘Tis the season of silence for children as well but for them, the silence is one of anticipation—of magic and possibility. Little ears strain for the sounds of Santa’s reindeer, for the rustle of paper and ribbon, and for the call from Mom and Dad to gather for the opening of gifts. That anticipatory silence is an opportunity to encourage a deeper, more internalized silence in our children. Candlelight at dinner, walks in the outside under a moon-bright sky, watching birds at the feeder, or working together in quiet concentration over a puzzle are all ways to practice silence without requiring the utter stillness so difficult for young children. Or try sitting together in front of the Christmas tree, if you have one, or a fire, quietly watching lights or flame until vision blurs, and young imaginations wander into sleep.
This holiday, we can choose to give ourselves and our children the gift of renewing and anticipatory silence by turning off the television, the cell phones and the MP3 players as well as our inner chatter of things to do and gifts to buy. Then, in that silence, we can find center again. In the silence we can find space for our mind to wander and indulge in remembering past holidays with loved ones. In the silence we can hear our inner voice and connect to deeper wisdom to discover who we are and what are our heart’s longings.
Only then we can truly celebrate a silent night, holy night and recapture that sense of anticipation of magic about to be made manifest in our lives.
Give your nerves and your spirit a rest this season. Then, when you gather with loved ones to celebrate, you will feel refreshed, renewed, and yes, sane.
1. Turn off the car radio when traveling from work or shopping. Use this time to reflect on the day, or to experience gratitude for what was accomplished
3. Pick a day or evening to do without the sounds and distractions of TV, radio, or CD player. What does the silence draw you to do? Or does it make you feel restless? Why?
4. Go for a walk outside without being plugged into your MP3 player. This is especially good to do in the evening if you live in the suburbs or the city (please walk where it is safe) because at night, even the city noises quiet down. Observe what you hear and don’t hear (like sirens, or street hawkers).
5. Try dining or entertaining by candlelight. Something about candlelight always encourages to soften our voices, and in the play of light and shadow, to truly listen.