Q is for quiet
By Malika Noor Mehta
Artwork by Trisha Srivastava
A word that holds so many meanings. A word that can be used as an adjective, a noun,
or a verb. It can describe a physical space around us, or the mental arena within us. It is
something we all require at some point in the day, perhaps even if it is just for a few
moments before we fall asleep. It is sometimes paired with the concept of “peace” –
perhaps as a precursor to reaching that state. Occasionally, it describes volume (or the
lack thereof). Other times, it elucidates the very nature of a person.
In the realm of mental health, the need or desire for Quiet is often critical. Especially
when we find our mind buzzing with an overwhelming number of to-do lists,
responsibilities, challenges and thoughts. Quiet is a fundamental part of human existence.
It is what allows for concentration. Rumination. Analysis. It is what gives rise to ideas. It
is what provides space for deeper comprehension. It is the foundation upon which the
mind slowly blossoms and comes forward.
A Quiet Space
Imagine walking through a forest in the Himalayas, large pine trees creating a green roof
above your head as you place one foot in front of the other. You stride up the moss-
covered rocks in order to reach the top of the hill. On one side of you, there are bushes,
flowers and the thick of the forest. On the other side, the path slopes gently down into a
valley that leads to a small stream. Each step you take echoes into the vastness. You can
hear the rustle of the trees, the humming of a bird, and your slow, steady breathing as
you ascend. You are calm. You are alone. You appreciate how the city noises have been
replaced by the ever-so-alive sounds of nature. There are no blaring horns. No clanking
hammers. No children squealing. No quick-witted conversations. And even though there
are other sounds, you find yourself calling the forest “Quiet” because your mind has
slowed down and found an unexpected sense of peace.
The gentler sounds. The deeper tones. The Quietness of nature. It allows the mind to
appreciate the environment in which it is moving and functioning. It provides space for
both internal and external observation. Suddenly, you notice the gradients of colours, the
different kinds of leaves, the varied sizes of the ripples in the stream. Suddenly, the
details speak to you. Your mind has been given the space to observe and understand.
And in the midst of this Quiet, you are more aware of your own breath, your own body, your own thoughts. This is the power of Quiet.
A Quiet Mind
As human beings, we have spent a lot of time understanding the ways in which we can
quiet (used a verb now) our mind. Meditation – in all its nuanced and varied techniques –
lends itself to that purpose. A particular form of meditation, Vipassana, meaning, “to see
things as they really are,” works towards this sense of Quiet by demanding that we not
react to the vagaries of life. Beginners are initiated into the practice of Vipassana (usually)
through residential courses during which participants abide by certain rules, among them,
the promise to not communicate. No speaking, writing or gesticulating to fellow participants. There are other precepts that make up Vipassana, but the request (or
perhaps, rule) to remain Quiet while around other people has always fascinated me. I
have always wondered what this form of Quiet does to the mind? Through anecdotal
evidence, I realized that a person new to Vipassana actually spends the first few days in
utter disarray – Quiet on the outside but whirring on the inside. Only naturally.
Vipassana asks the mind to not react, to remain calm even when external stimuli prick at
our exterior, and internal compulsions demand our attention. Vipassana asks for Quiet –
not for lack of thought – rather, for control of those thoughts. In asking the mind to find
this form of Quiet, Vipassana is re-centring the person, and allowing them to observe
themselves, sharpen their awareness about their environment and check-in with
themselves in a meaningful way. Leveraging Quiet as a tool can be powerful, particularly
as one tries to heal and rejuvenate a stressed or anxious mind.
Silence vs. Quiet
Stillness. Silence. The distinct lack of noise. There is a difference between remaining
“silent” and being “Quiet.” Silence is absolute while Quiet denotes a discreet
progression. Silence indicates a lacking (of sound) whereas Quiet indicates an abundance
of peacefulness. While it is advisable, in the realm of mental health, to Quiet the mind,
one would not ask someone to silence their mind. The mind cannot be silenced. There
will always be musings. Questions. Thoughts. Wonderings. Because human beings live in
and deal with grey areas all the time. We are forced to confront uncertainty. We are
encouraged to get comfortable in limbo-like situations. In fact, we are constantly trying
to stay away from absolutes – or, at least, we are often advised to do so. So, therefore, a
Quiet mind. Not a Silenced mind.
A Quiet person
What does that mean? A Quiet person? Is this someone who simply does not speak?
Someone who does not communicate in any form? No. A Quiet person is someone who
possesses a gentle confidence. A calm mind. An active, alive yet peaceful mind. A person
who can navigate the trials and tribulations of life without letting their mind explode.
Without allowing their words or actions to hurt others. This is a person with an internal
locus of control, undeterred by the whims of the world around them. They have a
certain, unwavering form of resilience. For a while now, I have strived to call myself
‘Quiet.’ I am not there yet. I do not possess that kind of strength yet. But, I also know
that reaching that Quiet space, fostering a Quiet mind, is a journey – perhaps a lifelong
one. And it is not done alone.
About the author
Malika Noor Mehta is a mental health entrepreneur. Before the pandemic, she was engaged in creating a fellowship program that placed mental health counsellors in low-cost schools in Mumbai. Her interest in mental health stems from her teaching experience at Teach for India and her time in Jordan and Greece, creating trauma-sensitive education programs for Syrian refugees. She holds a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In her free time, she loves to write and take photographs.