Sarah Sands visited 10 monasteries around the world to try to understand how their approach to life might be useful in our digital age. Here, she shares eight lessons she learnt that you can implement in your daily life.
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To spend less time both on your phone and in your own head are noble goals that many of us have tried (and probably failed) to commit to. In the digital age, it’s easy to waste time idly scrolling through apps and digital entertainment and, somewhat ironically, it’s also even easier to whittle away the hours overthinking, with one of the common sources of worry enhanced by social media being how other people view you.
One solution to both of these problems is mindfulness, but it’s often considered a bit of a vague term with many meanings. Although focusing on achieving greater mindfulness has been an effective way for many people to improve their mental health and self-esteem, it can be easy to get lost in the jargon and the extreme modernity of it all.
Sarah Sands, a journalist and author, sought out a different solution. She visited 10 monasteries around the world to find new ways to de-stress in the modern age, adopting the ancient wisdom and teachings of monks and nuns and applying them to everyday life.
These techniques are less focused on relaxation, like mindfulness, and more focused on preventing self-consciousness and self-absorption which can bring about a different kind of calmness. Ahead, Sarah shares the key lessons she learnt from this experience with The Curiosity Academy, all of which will help you to discover what Sarah describes as your ‘interior silence’.
1. Listen more
“[In our lives], we’re always asking people how they feel or what they want but actually, you’re probably not listening in the right way,” Sarah says. “Silent is an anagram for listen, and you only get a certain silence when you’re capable of listening.”
One of the key ways to make your mind feel less busy is to stop talking so much - whether that’s about yourself or other people - and simply listen, to other people, to nature and to your general surroundings.
2. Develop a greater awareness of the world around you
“I’d gone to a convent - Tyburn Convent it’s called - in the middle of London, so in the most urban environment,” Sarah says, explaining that the nuns rarely spoke to each other here but were always able to understand each other, knowing when one of them felt uncomfortable without even a gesture.
“If you live in a sort of community of silence,” one nun told Sarah, “then what happens is your inner life becomes much more developed and you become more intuitive about other people around you and you’re much more aware of your surroundings and other people.”
Often we think the best ways to understand the world and other people is by speaking about them, but there are other ways you can develop greater awareness. For example, walk around without wearing your earphones and observe your friends and family in ways that aren’t always related to yourself.
3. Re-evaluate how you manage your relationships
“The monasteries are apart from the rest of humanity but it doesn’t mean that they are not loving the rest of humanity,” Sarah says, explaining that a key lesson she learnt from this experience was that good relationships don’t require constant contact.
Keeping up with everyone you love very regularly can be a source of stress in itself and it doesn’t always improve relationships either. Accepting that the fact you are not in constant communication with someone doesn’t mean that your relationship is any less important to you - and ensuring the other party is aware of that too - is an important way of finding more inner silence.
4. Wake up a little bit earlier
If you’re not a morning person, this tip might sound scary to you. But Sarah’s approach to getting up early is fairly unusual as rather than doing so to make herself more productive (a common approach), she wakes up early to take time to rest her mind before the rest of the world wakes up.
In the morning, you are less likely to be disturbed by social media, the news, family and friends. In fact, this might be the only time in the day when you can be truly silent.
5. Keep your space tidy
“The first thing the monks are taught is tidiness,” Sarah says. “There is something about that harmony of order.”
A messy space can become all-consuming and overwhelming, even if you don’t immediately notice the effects of it, so maintaining a tidy space is a good place to start if you’re looking for more inner silence.
Don’t look at this as another way you can be productive though (monks are not known to take parts in seasonal clear-outs of their wardrobes), but rather a way of life that, eventually, will take up very minimal time and add more time and headspace into your day.
6. Practice patience
Sarah also recommends taking up a new hobby or finding a new habit that requires patience in order to allow your world (and mindset) to move a little slower. It might be something that requires a dedicated amount of time to learn or hone a specific skill, requires sincere concentration, and perhaps doesn’t provide thet immediate gratification that we’re used to.
She personally opts for birdwatching and has also stopped looking at the news during the day, as well as social media, which not only adds time back into her day but makes her less irritable and more present in the moment.
7. Appreciate the sunrise and sunset
Sarah says it can be useful to really take notice of the sunrise and the sunsets – something a lot of us started to do more during lockdown – in order to be more present.
“It literally lifts your sights,” she says adding that it will also help you remember that difficult times will pass as time keeps moving and the things we fret about in the moment are mostly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
8. Don’t underestimate the importance of discipline
Monks generally sleep without pillows and keep their rooms very plain and although Sarah doesn’t advocate for an approach this strict, it’s important to remember that you do need less things than you might think and to try and avoid consumerist habits as often as possible.
You can adopt more discipline into your life in whatever ways suits you, whether it’s buying less, eating differently, or having periods where you don’t allow yourself to go on your phone. Any of these approaches will help you appreciate the smaller things in life more as well as helping you learn more inner strength.
To read more about finding your interior silence, you can buy Sarah’s book and you can also read more about different ways to relax on Stylist.co.uk.
Sarah Sands, journalist and author
Sarah Sands is a journalist and the author of the book, The Interior Silence: 10 Lessons from Monastic Life. She visited 10 monasteries around the world to learn about finding an interior silence and has implemented many of the practices into her daily life.
Lead image: Getty