The Value of Silence


Samantha Phan, Lifestyle Associate Editor

I absolutely adore my headphones. I treat them the way one might treat a child: gently, with lots of love and care. They might be one of, if not the most, used item of mine. I wear them when I am walking to class, cooking, at the gym, even sometimes in the bathroom. If you see me around campus, chances are I am wearing my headphones, lost in the music and completely oblivious to the world.

Or at least, that is how I used to be. A few weeks ago, in the days approaching Winter Quarter finals, I found myself getting extremely irritated. Not with any one person, not with any specific thing, just… irritated. I tried everything to fix it: drinking more water, getting more sleep, face masks, afternoon naps, even meditation. Nothing took. It was like there was some bug in my ear, whizzing and buzzing and annoying me to no end. There were several moments when I thought that I might bang my head against my desk just to get it to stop. 

And then, in a stroke of genius, I tried something that had never before crossed my mind. I took my headphones off and, low and behold, everything was right again. My mind was crystal clear, the bridge between my eyebrows stopped aching, and I no longer felt vaguely homicidal. It was peaceful. 

I loved my headphones, I truly did, but it was time for them to go. Unfortunately, despite my love for them, they were doing more harm than good. I vowed that my headphones would be for the gym only. No more background noise as I walked, cooked, or used the restroom. No more annoying buzzing in my ear. Instead, I would attempt to appreciate the silence. 

At first, it was a bit difficult. When you are used to constantly listening to something, life without a little tune can seem boring. I was limited to focusing on only one thing at a time, unable to divide my attention between my task and my music. At one point I, while chopping an onion, decided to make each slice as thin as possible. Not because the recipe called for it, but because there was nothing better to do. 

As the days went on, I found myself enjoying the quiet. Before, I was constantly stimulated, overstimulated even. I needed to have multiple things happening at once to feel satisfied, ignoring the pulsing in my brain telling me it was too much and that I was going to get a headache. Life with constant stimulus was like trying to complete my times tables while my gym teacher shouted excerpts from Jane Eyre into a gym full of dancing ponies (not speaking from experience). It was too complicated. 

After my self-imposed headphones cleanse, I felt like I could finally take a moment to breathe. I realized that the boredom was nice. Pleasant even. Relaxing. It felt like I had discovered sleep mode for my brain. I could turn it back on easily if needed, but if it needed to rest and conserve power, I would let it. 

I also felt more introspective. While I am certainly no philosopher, I did feel the urge to reflect more often. I took time to think about myself, my day, my life. My choices and my regrets. While this may seem incredibly daunting, the experience was much less scary than it sounds. Just sitting and thinking was comforting. I feel that reflecting is necessary for growth, and it is far easier to do so when you can actually hear yourself think. 

I am not saying that you should stop listening to music or podcasts or audiobooks or whatever it is you like to listen to. All of these art forms offer a lot of value to our lives. I am simply saying that you do not need to be listening all of the time. It is okay to take a break, to let yourself experience life without distractions. 

It is not just audio experiences that create that cloudy feeling. Multitasking in general takes a lot out of you, whether it be as complicated as doing cartwheels while juggling or as simple as watching television during a meal. You do not need to cram as much content as you can into a few short minutes. There is value in doing things slowly. Relax for a moment. Take off your headphones. Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy your life, one step at a time.

Photo Courtesy of Brett Jordan from Unsplash