Back in the day, when I was working a corporate job and had just moved into the monastery, I would often spend Sunday afternoons with my teacher, Geshe Thubten Loden. One Sunday, while we were having afternoon tea he said to me, “Your body not iron. You rest need.” And yes, he spoke like Yoda. I like to call it Tinglish—Tibetan English.
I’d had a rather busy week, and was feeling rather run-down and I also had spent that day studying. And at that point in my life, I was very A-type and saw rest as something weak.
Although I know better this day, I still need to remind myself to work less and care more about finding the time to rest. But truth be told, I do, still, find it hard.
So finding time to be quiet is not always easy. But it is an essential activity for a busy schedule as it helps protect you from burnout, and speeds up the time of recovery from a busy lifestyle.
I found this out the hard way. And I’d rather you did have to. So in this article, I explain why you should find the time to be quiet once a week.
The benefits of doing so, and how to be quiet well in order to increase the efficacy of quiet time.
Why You Need to Find Time to be Quiet
If you, like me, have a rather busy schedule then it is important you find time every week to protect yourself from burnout. Burnout is not simply running yourself down, where a few day’s rest will resolve the problem.
Burnout is a physiological issue at the core of your nervous system, and it is extremely dangerous for your well-being.
I know this because I’ve suffered from burnout and it took several years to overcome as a result of the degree to which I allowed myself to fell prey to this subtle and widespread problem.
In the Tibetan tradition, the tradition I was trained in as a Buddhist monk, we have the notion of getting “lung” and it is often related to pushing too much during meditation.
If you’ve ever wondered why do I feel drained after meditation, as that article points out, it is because of pushing or squeezing the mind, and according to the Tibetan tradition, if this squeezing the mind is left unchecked it has the potential to turn into the most severe of all lung problems—heart-lung.
Heart-lung is when subtle energy that is the mount of consciousness gets stuck at the heart energy center. Traditionally, the heart-energy center is the core of life itself, and so burnout and its effects are a serious condition.
Now, the problem is, in the West, we are often pushy and not just in meditation. Work, family, and life in general, can be for some people a constant cause of stress. This stress raises your cortisol, which in turn, creates more stress, so much so that we need to push ourselves in order to get things done, which further raises cortisol levels.
And for those that are in toxic relationships, there is no escape from the stress of work. So finding time to protect yourself is vital for the people of modernity.
What is Quiet Time
Quiet time is a type of turning off while leaving the lights on. It is not sleep; nor meditation. It lives between these two states and functions differently to both. It’s not meditation for, as I point out in the article, how to practice Samatha meditation, meditation done correctly is about balancing relaxation, stability, and clarity.
And meditation’s focus is to develop functional, constructive, and positive states of mind for the purpose of personal growth or what Buddhists would call, Awakening to who you are in reality.
Sleep on the other hand, while extremely important for your health, does not allow for active participation (lucid dreaming falls outside the scope of this article).
Quiet time throws balance out the window and replaces it with nothing. That is to say, we are not trying to create a balance of anything, we are allowing our body/mind complex to fix itself.
Put simply, quiet time is about getting out of the way and allowing the psychological and physiological systems to settle into their natural state.
For those with some meditation experience, you might notice the use of this phrase. This, settling into the natural state, can be done while sitting, lying, walking, and even doing chores.
But it is important that these exercises are done with a certain kind of intentionality that is more akin to being rather than acting. I go into detail on what this actually entails, and how to practice below.
The Benefits of Finding Time to Be Quiet
The benefits of quiet time cannot be over-emphasized—they are that important. They range from boosting your immune system to not falling asleep while meditating. A strange combination to point out as benefits perhaps but I explain why below.
Quiet time boosts your immune system by allowing the mind and body to remain in a state of the parasympathetic nervous system for an extended period of time.
Rather than switching from sympathetic to parasympathetic as the nervous system should normally, we are maximizing recovery efficacy by attempting to engage the parasympathetic nervous system for an extended period.
The effect of this extended period is reduced cortisol level in the immediate term and lower the baseline when quiet time is practiced regularly. You will also increase your vitality and energy in the immediate term and the baseline if practiced regularly.
And this will help your regular meditation practice as you will have a greater capacity to balance the mind, focus deeply with energy without forcing yourself to bite down, and squeeze the mind to meditate.
How to have Quiet Time
Being quiet is more than simply not talking. Quiet here includes body, mind, and speech. It’s a restful state that is still, calm, and content in that stillness regardless of whether or not you are in fact moving (more on that in a moment.)
But how is it possible to be quiet and still get things done? Unlike the question, how long should you meditate, quiet time can be practice at will for it is more about being than doing.
If you are practicing quiet time lying down, this can be done on your bed, or a yoga mat. Place your hands by your side and release all tension from your body and mind. Then do nothing.
Just lay there without doing anything. If the mind wanders off, let it. If you fall asleep, that’s fine too. But do either because your body/mind needs it, not because you want it.
Quiet time can also be done while sitting and drinking tea. In fact, I spent one-hour drinking tea and staring into space watching clouds yesterday.
In some ways, this is similar to open presence meditation but, again, it differs radically because I’m not remained focused in that presence but rather allowing my body/mind to tell me what it wants and needs.
You can also practice quiet time while doing chores. And when doing so, again, this is an act of being not doing. If you are folding socks, fold without thinking about what comes next.
If you need to do something in the middle of this chore, then do so. Do not push yourself to finish.
The only thing you need to do is listen to what your body/mind needs with intuitive wisdom. If it needs the gentle activity of folding socks, great. If it needs the stillness of lying on your bed, great!
If it needs something between these two, like watching clouds, great!
And of course, it goes without saying that there should be no music being played or talking during this time. If you have family, then it can be a time for the entire family to do something together that includes no talking.
Now you might ask, isn’t this just meditation? No, it’s not just meditation. The focus of meditation is to develop functional, constructive, and positive states of mind for the purpose of personal growth, while quiet time is for the purpose of recovery.
Even though they might appear similar on the surface, the two are also radically different in approach.
Personally, I find quiet time while lying to have the most utility for my body/mind type. You should experiment to find what works best for you.
The Results of Regular Quiet Time
Quiet time is all about stripping the activity of your mind, your body, and your speech back to something that is more closely aligned with a natural effortless state of being. A state that is unburdened by the stress of life.
The results of finding the time to be quiet regularly will not only help protect your nervous system from burnout but will boost your immune system because the para-sympathetic system is given time to do the work necessary for recovery, and it is given this time to recover in such a way as to enforce the efficacy of the time allotted.
By allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to do the work it needs to you are building up a reserve for the busy week ahead.
That is why I personally find Sundays the best day for me to practice quiet time strictly.