We all need it at some point.

Why You Need Quiet Time

-By ThirdAge News Service(Courtesy of www.thirdage.com) –

Looking for a little peace of mind? Take a tip from Simon and Garfunkel and listen to the “Sounds of Silence.” Peace of mind — and the benefitsthat accompany it — comes with quiet, says Rikki Fowler, an Albuquerque, N.M., silence coach and spiritual mentor. “With silence people slow down, and they get a chance to hear themselves think.”

Fowler, 60, says she knows firsthand how life can become so loud that one’s inner voice is drowned out. Twenty-five years ago, she left hercareer as an ecologist in Alaska because she knew the career she had found wasn’t the work that she dreamed would preserve the environment. Finding her true calling has meant listening for a long time, she adds.

“Some people know what they are going to do from the time they are very young,” she says. “But a bunch of us don’t have a clue. We try this and that. We connect the dots.”

Fowler has become a certified life coach and ordained minister to help others on similar quests uncover their life purpose. “Noise is all around,” she says, listening to the clatter of dishes and conversations and blaring pop music in a coffee shop. Silence is the key, she says. “Silence allows the creative process. It’s giving the right mind space, so it can say its piece.”

Fowler doesn’t advocate a formal meditation practice, but she does encourage quieting the mind. “We can cultivate silence without doing formal meditation. There are many ways to learn to quiet the mind. Solitude works. I walk a lot. I watch birds, and they are another kind of spirit. You have to listen to recognize a bird from its call. I’ve gotten good at hearing them.”

Using Meditation:

Sages have practiced forms of meditation through the centuries to reap spiritual benefits. The advantages of finding time to quiet the external and internal environment through all kinds of meditation are documented in hundreds of studies.

The mind quiets, stress diminishes, attention and memory improve, pain subsides and feel-good brain chemicals are released. Two recent studies are no exception.

A 2005 Harvard Medical School study at Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated that Western meditators with a lifetime of practice had many of the same beneficial alterations in their brains as Buddhist monks. Brain imaging studies showed that participants who sat quietly meditating for four to six hours a week had the same thickening in the brain centers responsible for attention, working memory and sensory processing as lifetime meditators, strengthening parts of their brains that would normally decline with aging, according to an online report from the Society of Neuroscience.

Another study from the University of California at Irvine, published this year, showed that a dozen baby boomers ages 56 to 58 in Los Angeles and Orange County had increased pain tolerance after five months of meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each time.

Lama Ole Nydahl, who has founded more than 400 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers in the Western world, is a Buddhist who says his brain waves are significantly altered by his meditation practices.

Nydahl says scientists one day might be able to bottle all the good effects and benefits of meditation, but until then, practice and experience are needed. “The mind is unlimited. The mind is indestructible space,” he said to hundreds of people in a ballroom at the University of New Mexico recently.

“We all have strong thoughts and disturbing emotions,” he says, but quieting the external and internal distractions, is possible with practice. “We tie the horse of awareness to a pole so it cannot run away. We focus the mind inside on our breath …”

Meditation doesn’t have to be connected with any religious order. At the UNM Health Sciences Center, an eight-week, mindfulness-based stress reduction program is offered periodically to help participants learn to relax with the principles of meditation, but without any religious influences. The class offered through the Integrative Medicine Department meets once a week for three hours and has a day-long retreat at the end of the program.