In the Quiet Space (ITQS)
Creating Sacred Quiet Spaces in a Noisy World
In our rapidly changing, uncertain world, a quiet refuge is a necessity. In the Quiet Space (ITQS) is a simple but profound space in which people can experience quiet and calm, trust and mutual respect. In our work with ITQS, we have created such spaces in kindergartens, schools, after-school programs, homes, hospitals – anywhere that people (children or adults) want to nourish inner quiet, strengthen concentration and self-control and feel secure together with others. These inner qualities provide a firm foundation for coping in the outside world. In this article we discuss the need for a Quiet Space, the nature of the physical Quiet Space – and what makes it a special space – how to internalize the experience of quiet, trust and respect and to access this feeling outside the Quiet Space at a time of need, through the use of MicroCalming, the self-calming technique.
Key Words: Quiet Space, refuge, inner quiet, MicroCalming.
Imagine a favourite place where you feel calm and secure, untroubled by the multitude of stimuli inside of you and around you; a modern day sanctuary. Now imagine having that same calm feeling in the midst of a crowded, dynamic, anxiety-generating environment. For example, you are a three year-old in an inner-city kindergarten together with 30 other ‘lively’ children, or you are in a bed in the corridor of an overcrowded hospital ward. In fact, imagine you are anywhere in a world where ‘the enormous pressures of competing numbers build up against our needs of space and privacy…(and) devalue any sense of individual worth.’ Under these circumstances, is it still possible to savour that feeling of being in a sanctuary?
A sanctuary historically served as a place of refuge and as a sacred space. As a place of refuge, it offered protection from the many dangers that threatened people. But what threats and dangers are there in the world today that would cause us to seek out a refuge in a Quiet Space? What sort of protection can it provide?
In his classic book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler identified the central threat of our times: a massive acceleration of change, and what it brought in its wake – novelty, diversity, transience, over-choice, over-exposure to mass media, hyper technology, and the fractured family, which would disturb our inner equilibrium so much, that it would strain our capacity to adapt, creating a danger of what he called ‘future shock’. The psychological dimension of future shock would be manifested as a bombardment of the senses, overstimulation, information overload, and decision stress.
Much literature has been written in the last twenty years describing some of the effects of this massive acceleration. We hear for example that video games and T.V. may cause over stimulation, create passive withdrawal and cause attention and listening problems.3 And that computers effect our brains; everything on our computers competing for a piece of our mind.4 We live in a connected world but lack connections.5 Amid the promise of new technologies and scientific gains we are nurturing a culture of social diffusion, intellectual fragmentation and sensory detachment.6
Toffler claimed the only way to maintain any semblance of equilibrium in these conditions was to develop creative strategies for managing change, which cut down on connection and stimulation.7
However, our ability to manage change has been greatly affected by the erosion of external sources of authority, which in the past provided anchors, a sense of control and stability. Today,
every claim to authority is suspect because we are so supremely aware of our own cultural and historical relativity…. In our suspicion we refuse to accept any ‘must’ that comes from the outside – parents, elders, religion, institutions, morals, values.8
We are now caught up in a whirlwind of change without the anchors of the past. These times require an invention, a new environment, a new ‘must’.
That is why people are in need of a sanctuary such as In the Quiet Space.
2. What Is ‘In the Quiet Space’?
In the Quiet Space is a sanctuary – a sacred space that is consecrated to certain values: respect, trust, and quiet. ‘The Sacred is found when we recognise it as sacred’.9 But how do we recognise something we may never have experienced before? We feel it is different. The sacred differentiates between one type of space, time, behaviour and another.
The profound experience of trust and security felt in the Quiet Space is a way of renewing the sacred in the world – not the sacred based on beliefs, but a new sense of the sacred that breaks down the kinds of barriers that wall us off from each other and the world.10
Inside the Quiet Space, people learn – first – how to calm the body and mind. And from the foundation of calmness, they learn a technique – called MicroCalming – that enables them to access inner quiet, even when they are not in The Quiet Space. In this way, people acquire a coping skill that helps them to navigate the overstimulated world in which we live.
The group experience in the Quiet Space encourages sharing and listening, mutual respect and care. And the physical and emotional boundaries reinforce the value of the person’s inner world, while – at the same time – supporting his/her role as a member of a group.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Israeli Ministry of Education was looking for solutions to the increasing chaos found in schools. The rapid increase in behavioural problems, especially cases of violence, was of particular concern.
It was against this backdrop that, in 1998, a group of therapists and educators in the north of Israel began to work on a programme that could strengthen social integration. We understood that children needed some kind of coping mechanism to help them with their social, learning and behavioural difficulties. And we came to the conclusion that such a mechanism – a coping skill – required a new learning environment, a sanctuary of sorts.
We called this new environment In the Quiet Space.
3. How the Quiet Space Looks and Feels
The space, itself, is both a physical space and an inner space. The physical space can be a room or corner. In fact, almost any space can work. Simple means and minimal expenses are required to create this environment.
In some places where there is no possibility of either a room or corner, for example in kindergartens, we have managed to create the Quiet Space with a soft light and a fragrant smell on a table in the middle of the room. The critical element is a clearly defined and acknowledged boundary between the Quiet Space and other spaces at other times.
Inside the space, there is a quiet and comfortable atmosphere. After people enter, they are greeted by very pleasant sensations – a subtle fragrant smell (an oil, petal, or orange peel); soft, calming music; something pleasing to look at – a variety of soft lights, for example, or some beautiful fabric. And people get comfortable by sitting on chairs or lying on soft mats or cushions.
All of these gifts to the senses serve to calm the body and mind so the senses no longer need to be vigilant or alert to what is going on in the outside world. Instead, people can relax and go into their inner world.
4. What Happens Inside the Quiet Space
During the entire time that people are in the Quiet Space, we ensure that the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed, that people walk slowly to and from their places, and that a person’s wishes and every person’s physical and emotional boundaries are treated with respect.
Over the years, we have developed a number of simple, yet profound, rituals. These rituals signal to people that they are making a transition. They are moving from one kind of space to another kind of space. For instance, when people enter the Quiet Space, they come in one at a time. Each person is greeted personally and invited to choose a place to sit.
Inside the Space, sharing is an important part of the experience. People speak one at a time, and the person who is speaking at any one time holds a ‘talking box’. The talking box can be any suitable, small object. The talking box is passed from hand to hand, accompanied by a small gesture or bow. This gesture means that one person has spoken, has finished speaking, everyone has listened, and now that person is passing the right to speak to another person. It is a ritual of mutual respect.
When people really feel safe and comfortable then they can recognise the place of another. When they feel that they are heard, then they are able to listen to others. It is very difficult to experience this in the regular class atmosphere.
5. How It Works
Among the rituals and practices of the Quiet Space, MicroCalming is the central one. MicroCalming is a self-calming technique (a form of associative learning).
After people learn the technique, they are able to calm themselves in situations that are – in some way – threatening. The calm – the inner quiet – provides a crucial distance and perspective (a few seconds in time) from the source of anxiety and fear. As a result, the person can respond appropriately, rather than instinctively reacting to the threat or perceived threat, which is a more common scenario, particularly among children.
MicroCalming works by creating an association between a gentle cue and a positive physical and emotional state. The special cue, in this case, is a short series of key words: Nice, Quiet, Calm (in Hebrew Naim, Shaket, Ragua) And the positive physical and emotional state is inner quiet – a feeling of trust, security, and quiet. These anchor words radiate tones that are phonetically pleasing, and they echo the essence of the words.
The learning is easy and pleasant; people practice repeating the words every day for five minutes in a Quiet Space. When people practice MicroCalming for five minutes a day, for 40 days, they become conditioned. That is, the brain learns to associate the three anchor words with the feeling of trust, quiet, and security experienced in the Quiet Space. Subsequently, when a person says the anchor words silently in his or her heart at a time of pressure – no matter where the person is at the time – the brain automatically sends a message to the body: calm down. And the person immediately reconnects to the profound feeling of calm and quiet experienced in the Quiet Space.11
6. How It Plays Out in Real Life
MicroCalming enables children to rise above anxiety, anger, fear, aggression. But how can a five-year-old be expected to rise above his or her natural desire to fight (or run) at a time of pressure?
The answer comes from the children themselves. This is the story of Michael: He returned home one day and began playing with his toys. All of a sudden, his sister grabbed his toy. An average five-year-old would probably respond to this situation with tears or aggression or cries for help. But here’s what Michael told us: he wanted to grab the toy back, but refrained from doing so. He remembered the anchor words – Nice, Quiet, Calm – and he said them quietly to himself. Then he came up with a solution: he said to his sister, ‘You can play with the toy for another minute; then give it back to me.’
All this took a couple of seconds. Where did the solution come from? Not from rationally directed thinking. The solution was the result of immediate knowledge, which is why children from an early age can learn MicroCalming. For children, it is natural to trust an intuitive process.
7. Who Can Benefit?
All of the elements and practices of the programme serve to quiet the body and mind and enable people to focus, concentrate, and reach inner quiet, so it can be useful to anyone. Children, teens, and adults from all social, ethnic, and developmental backgrounds can participate successfully in In the Quiet Space.
In the Quiet Space serves as a communal space where something very nurturing occurs; such a communal space can be created in educational, health, welfare, communal, and family frameworks.
Our experience over the past 15 years has been clear: as the outer world becomes faster, noisier, more complex, and less stable, so the need for inner anchors becomes more essential for all people, no matter who they are or what their backgrounds are. ITQS serves as the sanctuary in which to experience quiet, trust, and respect with others; MicroCalming serves as the inner anchor by which to take this experience out into the world
8. Does Quiet Have a Future?
Richard Moss asked why humanity has consistently chosen war over peace. He answered that war is far more exciting, vital, energising. And only when peace creates a similar high level of energy will it be able to compete with war.12
The conflict between noise and quiet is very similar. Almost everybody understands the need for quiet, yet the noise is getting louder and louder. Noise is a lot more exciting and stimulating than quiet.
Is quiet exciting? Is quiet stimulating? It seems not. And for many, it is even threatening. This is why the setting up of a sacred, quiet space is a great challenge. There are two characteristic responses to ITQS; either it is considered too easy or too difficult. When it is too easy, it becomes what Robert Sardello calls an exercise or technique, which may, under certain conditions, produce a momentary experience of a new dimension; just like many other techniques of one kind or another. But when it is too difficult, there is not enough inner strength of will to abide by the boundaries and rituals in the Quiet Space and to continue to practice the technique.13
The inspiration for the name MicroCalming came from the field of economics. When the economist, Professor Muhammad Yunus, wanted to discover why people were poor, he went out into the Bangladesh countryside to speak to some of the poorest people in the world. What he discovered there led to the setting up of the Grameen (Village) Bank which provides the poor with interest-free small loans; to be later termed Microlending.
Yunus discovered that a small amount of money lent directly to those most in need can have a very significant effect on the welfare of millions of people. Put in the hands of women these loans created an unimaginable opportunity for families to achieve greater independence and control over their lives and improve their economic, health, and educational situation.14
MicroCalming is a very small self-calming intervention which enables children and adults to reach greater independence and mastery through control over their emotions and behaviour, and to connect more deeply to others and to themselves. It is very much needed in our world.
1 George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), 51.
2 Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 344-358.
3 Jane Healy, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think-and what We Can Do About It (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1999), 198.
4 Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: Norton and Company, 2011), 91.
5 Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 154.
6 Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (New York: Prometheus Books, 2009), 13.
7 Toffler, Future Shock, 377-379.
8 Stephenson Bond, Living Myth: Personal Meaning as a Way of Life. (Boston: Shambhala, 1993), 163.
9 Christopher Jamison, Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life (London: Phoenix, 2007), 23.
10 Daryl Reanney, The Death of Forever (London: Souvenir Press, 1991), 264-5.
11 Peter Mond and Pamela Mond, “In the Quiet Space: Inner Quiet as a Community Resource”, Reflections 17.4 (2011): 57-61.
12 Richard Moss, The Black Butterfly: An Invitation to Radical Awareness (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1987), 261.
13 Robert Sardello, Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness (Berkeley: Goldenstone Press, 2008), 4.
14 Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), 45-47.
Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton and Company, 2011.
Fowler, Susan. Multisensory Rooms and Environments: Controlled Sensory Experiences for People with Profound and Multiple Disabilities. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.
Furedi, Frank. Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating. London: Continuum, 2009.
Healy, Jane. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think-and What We Can Do About It. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1999.
Jackson, Maggie. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. New York: Prometheus Books, 2009.
Jamison, Christopher. Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life. London: Phoenix, 2007.
Mond, Peter and Mond, Pamela. “In the Quiet Space: Inner Quiet as a Community Resource.” Reflections 17.4 (2011): 57-70.
Moss, Richard. The Black Butterfly: An Invitation to Radical Aliveness. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1987.
Nataraja, Shanida. The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation. London: Gaia, 2008.
Reanney, Darryl. The Death of Forever: A New Future for Human Consciousness. London: Souvenir Press, 1991.
Sardello, Robert. Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness. Berkeley: Goldenstone Press, 2008.
Steiner, George. In Bluebeards Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.
Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Bantam Books, 1970.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2012.
Yunus, Muhammad. Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. New York: PublicAffairs, 2007.
Peter Mond M.A. is a Social Worker and the Director of the ‘In the Quiet Space Centre’, Israel.