The need for silence in a noisy world

It is quite evident that we live in a terribly noisy world and it seems to get worse every day. Wherever we go, loud and unwanted sounds assail us. When we enter elevators, shopping centers and restaurants, the musak invades us. I recently had lunch at a popular restaurant and found the background music so loud that it interfered with normal conversation and enjoyment of my lunch. When I asked the waitress if I could turn off the music, or at least turn it down, she said, “I don’t think we can.” Surely we as a people are still in charge of the volume controls.

When you add lawn mowers, snow plows, leaf blowers, jackhammers, jet engines, transport trucks, and horns and bells of all kinds and descriptions, you have a wall of constant noise and irritation. Even when you watch a television show at a reasonable volume level, you gasp when a commercial appears at the decibel level of a jet.

We seem to have created a cultural acceptance of our noisy world even though it is making us physically and psychologically ill. We can’t seem to live without background sound. We have friends who turn on the television the moment they wake up in the morning and leave it on all day. The house is too quiet if it is not turned on. Former high school students of mine used to tell me that the first thing they did when they got home from school was turn on their CD player as hard as their parents would tolerate it.

Cornell University recently conducted a study to determine the impact of noise on employees in an open area office space where people are constantly exposed to fax machines, telephones, office chat, shredding machines, etc. The test results revealed that workers in an open area had high levels of adrenaline in their urine. The body releases adrenaline when it is under stress. It prepares us to fight or flee. When these employees were compared to those in freelance offices, the results were surprising. People in a quiet, independent work area did not have the same high levels of adrenaline in their urine. They were much more relaxed and less stressed.

A puzzle, demanding attention and concentration, was handed out to both groups of employees. The open area group was found to be less diligent in solving the puzzle and was easily frustrated and gave up much earlier than the quiet office group. The study also found that quiet office workers slept better at night, had better digestion, were much less irritable at home, and felt better at the end of their workday than employees in the open-concept office. Noise appears to affect focus, productivity, and general physical and psychological well-being. Noise tends to increase stress levels, which in turn can result in increased frustration, anger, and strained interpersonal relationships. We must begin to make friends with silence.

How to make friends with silence

While we have very little control over noise in the general environment, we do have control over our own private environment. This is where we begin to cultivate a friendship with silence.

* Consciously commit to the experience and appreciation of silence.

* Go for a walk in nature. Let the silence calm your spirit.

* When you are alone in your residence, turn off all noisy appliances. Start with fifteen minutes of silence and gradually increase the duration.

* Learn to meditate and schedule a ten minute meditation period once or twice a day. Gradually extend your meditation time.

* When driving to work, turn off your car radio and drive quietly.

* Go camping for one night alone. Find a quiet camp where they don’t allow people to play their music without regard for others. Usually I go camping only for a week a year to be alone and quietly outside. It has become something I look forward to.

* Drive to a lake at sunset and rent a canoe. Paddle slowly along the shoreline taking in the silent sights and gentle sounds of nature as the sun sets and darkness approaches.

* In silence listen to your breathing. Get a feel for the silent rhythm of life.

* Just before retiring, step outside and look up at the night sky. Soon you will feel another universal rhythm so unknown to many. Let the night sky and darkness embrace and calm you as you prepare for your night’s rest.

* When reading a book, read it silently. Many of us read to music or during television commercials. Try the silence. You will come to love it.

You will soon begin to appreciate the periods of silence that you have built into your day and yearn for more. You will quickly discover that you are becoming more relaxed and less tense even in the midst of our noisy world. You will have made an invaluable new friend from silence, a friend who can comfort, heal, and calm your spirit. What a gift you have given yourself.

Be still and know the restorative power of silence.

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