It’s funny how we resist change, and before we know it, we find ourselves settling into new routines like they’re old habits. Adjusting to this new normal prompts new ways of connecting with each other. For me, part of understanding my relationships with others also means looking inward. One of the things I’m paying more attention to these days is silence — what it means to embrace silence and rediscover what matters most in life.

Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful:

Carving out boundaries and sticking to them

Normally, at the end of a workday I would be logging off, packing up my bag, and wishing my co-workers a restful evening. The 10 minute walk to the bus stop would give me time to pause and reflect on the day. Now, when 4:30 rolls around, I try to do something similar.

I acknowledge the time (even saying it out loud). I put away my notebook and laptop. If an email notification comes in on my phone, I resist the temptation to respond, reminding myself that it can wait till tomorrow. By not responding, I’m using silence to acknowledge that work is over for the day. And as for my 10 minutes of solitude, I go outside and sit in the sun or take a quick lap around the block.

Recognizing that silence is more powerful than words alone

One benefit of talking on Skype or Facetime is the need to pause and let the other person speak so as to avoid talking over each other. I noticed in a recent conversation that when my friend started tearing up, I stopped myself from saying anything and just sat with her in silence.

I thought back to my own experience with grief. Despite having good intentions, some people would say things that were unhelpful and didn’t reflect how I was feeling. As Brene Brown says: “Rarely can a response [i.e. verbal] make something better; what makes something better is connection.”

Taking the time to drop anchor and be present

Prior to my current work-from-home setup, I would be getting ready for a meeting by making sure I had my trusty notebook, pen, and water bottle. I would try to get there early, choosing a good seat and greeting others with a quick hello. I go through a similar process now for Zoom calls. And I have the same purpose in mind, namely, taking a moment to drop anchor. In other words, I’m taking a moment to show up and be present. I try to hold off on signing into the meeting until a minute or two before the scheduled start time.

At a recent meeting with about 25 people, I was one of the first three people to sign in. The other two had already started a conversation. I said a quick hello to them and muted my microphone and sat in silence until several others had joined. I realized that I was feeling frazzled and needed a minute to sit still so that I could listen and be present.

Reconnecting with our spiritual side

Some people nourish their souls through practices such as yoga and meditation. For me, having anxiety makes it hard to fully engage in a way that feels calming and soothing. Moments of silence can turn into a never-ending loop of worries and fears.

The time of day when I welcome the silence and stillness is when I’m outside with my dogs at night. I notice how quiet the neighborhood is with no people around and few cars on the street. For a minute, it feels like we’re the last three beings on earth. And yet, there is a feeling of peacefulness that comes over me. I look up at the moon and stars and I think of my dog who passed away. I pause for a moment, feeling nature all around me and the warmth of my two pups.   

To recap, silence helps us 1) Set boundaries, 2) Empathize with others, 3) Be present, and 4) Reconnect with our spiritual side. In harnessing these strategies, I’m realizing what matters most to me: 1) My time, 2) My relationships, 3) My engagement in work, and 4) My connection to nature and my dogs (Dally, Rusty & Frankie).

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