Embracing Silence

For 25 hours starting on Wednesday evening members of the Jewish faith will observe Yom Kippur. It is considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and is a solemn day that demands abstention from eating or drinking, from wearing leather and further demands prayer and introspection. It is a challenging day on all accounts, and even more so when the silence of our phones and of increasingly busy lives forces us to confront the year that was. Confront it without the crutches of distraction that we have come to rely on.

The prospect of being alone with my thoughts is not an easy one for me. The shift in working styles over the course of the pandemic means that even if I am working from home, there is little time that is silent and still. Phones, messages and Zoom meetings attach most of us to our technology and to the noise that accompanies the business for most of the day. And then, when the workday concludes (assuming it does), other devices take over for the “entertainment.” Until, stimulated and spent, we fall asleep, only to be awoken by the sound of the phone alarm, calling us once again to attention.

Because our technology doesn’t like to be ignored.

Headspace is as rare as the silence. Quiet contemplation is an exceptional occurrence. Which is how we have designed it and is what we choose. But is by no means what we need. We spend so much time distracting ourselves from ourselves that we have become experts at it. So much so, that we hardly even notice anymore.

Unless we are forced to.

It is little wonder that the incidents of depression and anxiety are fast reaching dangerous levels. In the United Kingdom the percentage of adults experiencing symptoms of depression has doubled from 10% to 20%, whilst in the United States this has increased four times from 11% to 42%. It is worth noting that younger people have been even more impacted with 56.2% of adults aged 18-24 reported symptoms of anxiety and depression while the incidents amongst adults aged 25-49 was 48.9%. This means that more than half the adults from 18-49 reported anxiety and depression.

There is growing evidence and concern that the next “pandemic” will be a mental health one. And that the worst is still to come. It is common for people to be able to “keep it together” at times of crises. But what follows the crises is a physical or mental health challenge that was kept at bay. With most of the world having lived through a crisis, what is set to follow is a major concern.

Unless we find a way to start dealing with this. Unless we find a way to step away from the noise, to stand still and allow ourselves to heal.

For observant Jews, the day of Yom Kippur presents a chance to begin this process. It is filled with prayer and contemplation. On this day, Orthodox Jews will not access their phones or computers and will not use musical instruments. One day a year is by no means adequate but is an opportunity to start a journey.

There is one particular prayer that forces us to confront the future and our own mortality.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born, Who shall live and who shall die, Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not, Who by earthquake and who by plague, Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued.”

In contemplating the above we recognise our vulnerability as well as the fact that there is a little over which we have a lot of control. It forces us to consider the plague that has ravished the planet and that peace and birth are blessings that are universal. It might be intoned by those of the Jewish faith, but it is a prayer for all of humanity.

The pandemic has highlighted not only our physical vulnerability, but also our emotional one. Irrespective of faith, it is time for us to take our mental health seriously. To stop. To disconnect from the technology that governs us and to welcome the silence and the healing.