The Wheel turned, and the final harvest lies behind us. The nights grow longer now and cool darkness whispers against the windows after the sun goes down. It is the time of the inward spiral. Living in rhythm with seasonal shifts includes many challenges, though. Although our ancestors were governed by their seasons and climate, we are not. Our over-connected 24-hour-news-cycle world demands almost constant attention from us. Artificial light and climate control keep us going long after the sun goes down. When we try to create space from the ever-present onslaught of stimulation, it can feel like we miss important information or opportunities. Walking away from the cacophony seems almost impossible.
The thing is, humans need silence. The website Interruptions.net lists over 800 independent studies demonstrating how information overload (from smartphones, computers, televisions, etc) slashes concentration, efficiency, and safety whether at work or at home. Studies on silence underline these findings – when exposed to quiet, our stress levels drop.
So, what’s a witch to do?
I take my cues from the natural world. As a practicing Pagan, my greatest teacher and example is nature. In the Mid-Atlantic where I live, much of the animal world is bedding down for their winter sleep. They are going into deep quiet. Although we think of hibernation as simply going to sleep, it is of course far more complex than that. Our furred and scaled brethren carefully prepare for their time of rest. This includes gathering resources together and finding a safe, secure environment in which to slumber. To create space for our own mental rest, for the inward spiral, we also need to do a little work.
Silence can be divided into three categories: external silence, internal silence and deep quiet. To fully rest and recharge during the dark season, we should try to find ways to experience all three kinds.
External silence involves our environment. We need times of being surrounded by quiet. Not necessarily absolute silence, mind you, but low level sound input. It’s very common now to have an almost constant barrage of audio stimuli – when we drive, we listen to music, podcasts or the radio. When we’re at home, the television is on in the background or we can hear the soundtrack from the game the kids are playing in another room. Our work environments are frequently full of the conversation of other people and electronics.
External silence can also include the aesthetics of the physical spaces we occupy. Clean, tidy spaces make us feel calmer. Creating quieter spaces in your home doesn’t mean throwing away things you love, it just means keeping things fairly tidy.
Internal silence involves our minds. The human brain is an extraordinary organ capable of incredible feats of understanding and connection. It also gets overwhelmed and can become fried from too much input. We frequently end up in a space of an almost constant internal narrative that divorces us from our ability to lean into the present.
Deep Quiet involves our spirits. Beneath the noise of our environment, beneath the chatter of our ‘monkey brain,’ there lies another, deeper awareness. The spiritual or higher Self also has a voice. Frequently, it’s the one people are trying to drown out the most with distraction. However, by creating space for quiet, by coming into closer contact with our Spirits and listening to that internal compass and its needs, we can enter a state of Deep Quiet. Deep Quiet is the moment of silent oneness that so many of us have encountered at various points in our lives. It’s the moment of connection with All That Is where you sense your ego, your individual identity, recede into the background.
With small, subtle adjustments to our lives, we can find moments of silence to support our winter healing. Boundary setting, prioritizing quiet and finding spaces for low-stimulus experiences can also be explored within the different categories of silence. As with many of my blogs, I’m going to give you a lot of different ideas to play with. Remember that small adjustments work best in our lives – incremental change is much easier to manage. Try one or two things to start with rather than attempting to implement a sudden, whole-hog life change.
- Choose literal quiet and start shutting off the stimuli. When you are driving, turn off the music/podcast/radio for a while. At home, only have the television on when you are actively watching it. If you realize that you’ve zombied out in front of the screen, simply turn it off. You weren’t really watching it anyway. If you live with someone who likes to play loud video games, request that they use headphones for a specific span of time, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
- Sit with discomfort. Most people will initially feel awkward and uncomfortable with no stimuli. We’ve gotten so used to the constant barrage of input that stopping it feels weird. Sit with it. Breathe through it. Change your internal phrasing from ‘I have to be quiet,’ to ‘I get to be quiet.’ See what happens.
- As you’re planning for more quiet during your inward spiral, choose one room in your house to focus on as a ‘quiet zone.’ Keep that room picked up. For me, that room is my living room. I use my bedroom for sleep and sex only and my office is for work rather than relaxation, so being able to sit quietly in my living room for a few minutes here and there is the best fit for me.
- Put away the phone. Quite literally in most cases. I find it most helpful to keep the majority of my app notifications silent and I have begun to leave my phone in a different room than I’m in. If it rings, I’ll be able to hear it and go get it. Having it literally out of sight keeps me from fiddling with it needlessly and ending up on social media out of habit.
- Create some space in your schedule. Grab your calendar and block off days and evenings for nothing, especially surrounding high activity days. On my own calendar, I write this in giant block letters, then make sure my digital calendars are updated as well. Defend those off days the same way you would an important job interview. Lie if you have to – most people don’t ask questions about ‘family obligations’ or ‘doctor’s appointments.’
- There are dozens of types of meditation, not all of which involve sitting quietly. Choose one, or a few, to try. Start with just five minutes daily. Add on when you’re ready to. Use an app like Headspace if you need some help here.
- Find a release valve. Our brains have so very much to say. For many people, the practice of Morning Pages from the Artist’s Way can be useful. To engage in this practice, simply fill three pages of journal with brain-chatter. Let all of the complaints, frustrations, random thoughts, to-do items and other thought flotsam and jetsam spill out onto those pages. The point isn’t to write something profound, it’s to get all of the other crap out of the way. You don’t have to keep the pages. You can even burn them.
- Add a mindfulness-triggering hobby. Color, paint, sew, embroider, weave, spin, build or otherwise engage your body in an activity that allows you to quietly focus on creating. For me, it’s making malas. Choose that activity rather than screen time once or twice a week.
- Limit your news intake. Staying informed is important but relentless exposure to the stress and chaos of our world can damage our ability to respond in a meaningful way. Choose specific times of the day to engage with current events. Make sure your last check-in with the media whirligig is well before bedtime to allow you to settle down. For example, if your bedtime is 11, make your media cutoff 9 at the latest. Set an alarm in your phone to enforce the boundary you want to set with yourself.
- Think back to your moments of peace and oneness, your transcendental experiences. What was the context surrounding them? Were you inside or outside? By yourself or with others? Were you moving? Sitting? For me, being in beautiful spots in nature and having done some work to get there is pretty effective. I like to hike to places with great vistas and overlooks. I also experience transcendental connection when free-form intuitive/ecstatic dancing.
- Plan some times (maybe on a couple of your NOTHING GOES HERE days) to pursue activities that help trigger deep peace for you. Go somewhere beautiful. Schedule a massage or a float. Rise early enough to watch the sunrise. Keep trying things until you find the right fit for you. Maybe seeing an orchestra performing live does it for you, or visiting a gallery. There’s no right or wrong answer here – we all experience transcendence differently. Find what works, then keep doing it.
In an age where busyness is some sort of badge of honor and staying connected is pushed by every large multinational business conglomerate, exploring silence is punk as fuck. Let’s be punk as fuck this winter.
Let’s follow the example of the natural world around us. Choose the ways in which you will create more stillness around you. Then, begin to implement them little by little. And let me know how it goes.
I wish you the quiet of newfallen snow, the soft silence of the first light of dawn, the mystery of the witching hour. Do you have some tricks and tips for finding spaces of peace and quiet? Hit me up in the comments.
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