Sound and silence have a direct, powerful influence on emotions. We seldom acknowledge this fact, yet it is self-evident - we become anxious when we hear sirens or people arguing, sleepy when we hear a lullaby, focused by the hypnotic repetition of chanting.

Most people are unaware of the effects of sound and silence on the body and mind, even in the midst of the noise pollution so characteristic of cities. It is vital for your emotional health to take control of the soundscape that surrounds you. If you cannot escape disturbing sounds, the new technology of noise cancellation gives you a way to protect yourself from them. Noise-canceling headphones detect environmental noise with built-in microphones and generate signals that neutralize it; they are readily available and affordable.

Another possibility, especially useful in the bedroom, is to mask annoying sounds with white noise, which sounds like hissing air or rushing water. Portable white noise generators are also readily available and affordable, and there are larger systems that can cover offices and whole houses. Some allow you to select from a range of sounds, from ocean waves to rain.

Apart from neutralizing or masking unwanted sounds, you can, of course, choose to listen to those that have positive effects on your moods. Unlike most electronic sounds, sounds of nature, such as wind blowing through trees and water running over rocks, are complex and may "nourish" the brain in some way. We evolved with the sounds of nature, and the relative lack of them in our artificial environments of today may be yet another cause of emotional malaise.

There are many ways to bring healing sound and silence into your living space. Dr. Weil has a set of very large, bass wind chimes that he uses to help focus his attention on his breathing.

Sound And Silence

Cultivating silence can also serve as an antidote to the emotionally unsettling effects of sound and noise. By making an effort to experience silence regularly, even if briefly, our well-being - physical, mental, and spiritual - can feel supported. If silence scares you, dip into it briefly but often to become tolerant to it and lose any fear of it you may have. It fosters mindfulness and all the mental and emotional benefits of bringing full conscious awareness to the present moment.

If you search them out, you can discover oases of relative quiet in big cities: in libraries and reading rooms, museums, houses of worship, parks, and gardens. Most hospitals have meditation rooms, and can offer an escape from the all the stress-inducing sounds of the wards and corridors, even if only for a few minutes here and there. You can also take advantage of quiet times of the day and night, getting up just before dawn when most of the world around is not yet stirring. The evening dusk can be almost as quiet, as well as nighttime silence. Should you happen to find yourself awake in the middle of the night, instead of trying to go back to sleep, soak up the silence, feel grateful for it, and focus on your breathing until you drift off. Cultivate silence in your life and let it heal and refresh you whenever you encounter it.