In search of silence

I have always loved silence. I am an only child who spent a lot of time at home alone. We’ll unpack the “why” of why a 2nd grader spent days alone at home in later posts. Suffice it to say that, starting at age 8, I spent copious amounts of time on my own.

Whenever I experience a treasured moment of silence, I immediately feel my defenses relax. My shoulders relax. I can breathe easier. My entire body eases into itself. An opinion article in The New York Times (behind a paywall, unfortunately) this week addresses the individual human and society’s need for (at least occasional) silence.

Studies indicate that constant noise boosts stress hormones, blood pressure and susceptibility to other chronic illnesses. It also creates a kind of relentless distractibility that keeps us from noticing our very lives and our internal needs and longings. A never-ending din makes it more difficult to process grief and intense emotions in healthy ways.

TIsh Harrison Warren, The New York Times

Living in the noisy center of an insanely noisy city, particularly over the last 18 months, has had a detrimental impact on my emotional well-being. I relished the relative quiet during the most severe lockdowns. But as things open up, the noise ticks up in decibels. The singing drunks (why must they SING?), the impatient honking, the urgent sirens, the clanging bell and vibrating rumble of the tram under my window every 10 minutes, the clanking of the loose metal manhole whenever a car drives over it, like every minute. All day. Nearly all night.

I am in a constant state of aural assault.

The noise-cancelling headphones are limited, and require that I listen to something (more noise) to help drown out the cacophony outside.

I have become like The Grinch, with his lamentations of noise, noise, noise!

No wonder that virtually every short vacation I’ve planned over the last three years has been to places of nature, relative solitude, and quiet. You know I’ve been in charge of planning if the last kilometer is down a dark, narrow dirt road to some isolated cottage.

Silence is my happy place.

The NY Times article addresses our culture’s fear of silence. People have a need for the constant distraction. They turn the music on the moment they wake up, or can’t go for a walk without attaching their headphones. They go to co-working spaces to feel the “energy” of being near others. I believe it’s because they prefer the background din of motion and movement to the stillness of working at home. Or perhaps it’s not the need for distraction as much as the fear of being alone with their thoughts or their emotions.

Noise is more than sound. It’s also visual noise. Our craving extends to needing constant stimulation in the form of news feeds, social media alerts, texts, emails, WhatsApp threads, etc., etc., etc.

There’s a lot of talk about being a minimalist, about decluttering. Perhaps we should also consider decluttering most of the noise in our lives, at least for some periods of time?

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

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