On or around the first half of March each year, the Balinese commemorate a National Day of silence. This is known to them as “Nyepi”.
From 6 a.m until 6am the next day, no one does anything except self reflect. No work, no play, no pleasure, no travelling, not using anything that may emit sound and light. No driving. Nothing. Ngurah Rai International airport will shut and for the first time, even the internet will be turned off.
And all this is enforced by law. The only people you will see are known as the “Pecalang”, patrols who enforce the prohibitions. I was told punitive measures can include short term imprisonment.
Non-Hindus, including tourists are asked to stay in their hotels and resorts. Except for emergency, no motor vehicle movement is allowed.
Modern living takes a lot of attention from our minds. Our phones bombard us with short videos, friends are screaming for us to read their shares, their photographs, hear their thoughts. At work, we’re all massively multi-tasking.
In 2011, the World Health Organisation reported that noise pollution is a “modern plague”, there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has ill effects on human health.
We’re constantly being engaged, thrilled and have our emotions stoked. Personally, I think we should practice a day of silence, not only once a year…but maybe as far as once a week.
Self-reflection creates meaning for our souls. It is through meaning that makes us human.
Silence relieves stress and tension. In fact it was demanded by 19th century nurse Florence Nightingle. “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on the sick”, she said arguing that needless sound could cause distress, sleep loss an alarm.
Noise can lead to elevated blood pressure, increased heart rates and disrupted sleep patterns. In a 2006 study , published in the journal Heart, two minutes of silence can be more relaxing than listening to “relaxing music”.
Silence replenishes our mental resources.
We need space and quiet to escape the flood of sensory input. Our brains need space to restore itself. Relentless attention of modern living burdens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, this is the part of the brain that is involved in high-order thinking, decision making and problem solving.
Silence can regenerate brain cells.
In a 2013 study on mice, published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function, the effects of ambient noise, white noise and silence on the rodents brains was compared and studied. They found that two hours of silence daily led to the development of new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion.
The whole world can learn a thing or two from the Balinese Hindus. Maybe governments will find it useful to take a day off economics and enforce a day silence for the mental sanity and physical well-being of us all.