Seeking silence: Ultimately, it’s an inside job
Monday, July 22, 2019
Noise — it’s everywhere! Noisemakers abound: fans, compressors, leaf blowers. Even libraries, once a respite enshrouded in a tomblike hush, have now become community headquarters. Am I the only one left seeking silence in what seems like a deafening world?
From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: "Sound is what we hear. Noise is unwanted sound. The difference between sound and noise depends upon the listener and the circumstances."
It’s the man-made noise versus the sounds of nature that really seem to unnerve me. Chirping birds and crashing waves do not register as annoyances or rattle my nervous system like shrill vacuums, hissing air conditioners and thundering dishwashers do.
Evidence shows that animals also are deeply affected by noise. The authors of a 2016 article in the Australian Academy of Science conclude with, "...the problematic noise is being generated by the human world, and it is up to us to find ways to reduce and stop it."
Why does silence have to come at such a premium? It costs so much more to buy a "whisper" quality appliance or to take a vacation at a secluded beach resort. It takes a lot more time to get to a hiking trail far from the maddening crowd.
Swimming, because my head is underwater, gives me a bit of a reprieve from the roar yet one needs to be near some sort of body of water to dive into. When flying at 10,000 feet, once all the food and beverage service bustle is over and everyone has settled down or is sleeping, there are suspended moments of quiet. Quite a price to pay for peace!
Our sensitivities to sounds are all so different. What is a nuisance to one is a necessity for another. While some of us need "white noise" humming in the background to get to sleep; others of us jam earplugs in as far as possible in an attempt to muffle the sounds.
There are some obvious solutions to living with noise: get good earplugs, turn off your phone, shut the door. Yet it’s a little trickier when it involves another person’s actions.
That person may not even be aware of the issue. Perhaps they are hard of hearing. I had a neighbor once, a retired commercial airline pilot, whose hearing loss kept costing him tea kettles — he could not hear that high pitch whistle when the water boiled.
It was only the smell of the destroyed burning pots that alerted him. Not wanting to catch his home on fire, he finally shifted to an electric kettle that turned itself off automatically to heat his water.
You might need to talk about it together, though. Relying on rolling your eyes, heavy sighing or countering with, “It doesn’t sound loud to me,” is probably not going to get you the outcome you desire. Don’t take it personally. That person is not necessarily wrong and you’re right.
Remember, we all have different levels of sensitivities and at different times. Don’t discount the other; offer some empathy instead. Then, strategize, aiming for a solution that will work for all.
Recently, a friend’s roommate volunteered to keep her grandchildren’s big dog while they went on a long vacation. Big dogs have big barks and this grandma happened to work at night.
Fast forward a few raucous nights with tension escalating and not much sleep for anyone, they sat down together and figured out a way to soothe the dog and my friend and keep her roommate employed.
My strategy, when all else fails, is to use the noise as a "practice." Sometimes, I shapeshift it into the sound of a glorious giant gong, the bell of mindfulness.
And when the external noise finally becomes subdued — guess what — I then have an opportunity to hear the cacophony of my own mind. It’s now solely up to me to experience the equanimity I seek. Abu Yazid al-Bastami sums it up exquisitely, "All this talk and turmoil and noise and movement and desire is outside the veil; inside the veil is silence and calm and peace."
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