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Let the Silence In

Let the Silence In

Noises drive me crazy. Not just nails on a chalkboard, but also clocks ticking, faucets dripping, shutters banging, doors creaking, dogs barking or car alarms blaring on and on unattended, or a neighbor’s TV or alarm clock droning on through the walls. Have you ever had one lone cricket lost in your home, chirping out a greeting to anyone who would listen?—chirp, chirp, chirp first here, then there. Nerve-wracking! One time I was staying overnight at my parents’ home, sleeping on the pull-out bed in the den, which is located right next to the kitchen. It took some time, but I finally found the step stool needed to take down the stupid kitchen clock and pull out the batteries, all to stop the incessant tick, tick, tick that was keeping me awake.

But even if these irritating noises could be abolished, it would be rare to experience the total absence of sounds. We do not live in the vacuum of space, after all. There will always be the hum of a computer, the ringing of a phone—with a variety of ring tones to choose from these days, the droning of TV shows, the patter of rain on the roof, and—if you are lucky—the purring of a cat in your lap or the laughter of children. My upstairs neighbors get up every day about 4 am; rather than being a nuisance, their muffled sounds as they start their day are reassuring on the mornings I am awake enough to hear them—they are there and would hear me call out for help, if that need arises.

Music is also a delightful way to fill the quiet, depending on who chooses the station or artist. Often when I drive I sing along with golden oldies—my voice would be considered noise to many, I am sure, so it is good I drive alone. I heard a news story once about how a convenience store owner discouraged rowdy teens from gathering in his parking lot all night long, bothering paying customers just by their presence and boisterous behavior. He started using the parking lot’s speaker system to play classical music rather than a local radio station. The kids eventually decided to congregate somewhere else. I like classical music, jazz too. But if my hangout routinely blared hard rock or rap, I too might move on.

But on the other extreme, too much quiet can be also deafening, overwhelming. Think to when you are carefully listening for a specific sound. Many a parent has breathed a sigh of relief when the car tires finally crunch to a halt on the driveway, when a child is late getting home during a storm. Consider the frustration when waiting for a phone to ring—and the call does not come. The more urgent the expected call—a loved one calling to say, “I am sorry;” results from a medical test; update on a loved one’s condition—the louder the silence. Or consider the time when you moved out on your own for the first time and would have so welcomed a comforting noise or two, that eventually you turned on the TV to banish the quiet. And then there is the quiet that never is broken, even if the house is full of noise, because a loved one has died and her laughter and singing and even snoring will never be heard again.

But the absence of noise is not necessarily silence. Silence is an attitude, an opportunity. In that regard, silence can be rewarding and certainly should not be avoided. Silence—even though often riddled with background sounds—allows so much that it is worth the time it takes to find it these days. Let the silence in. First, turn off the TV, put the iPod ear phones aside, set the phone ringer to off—not vibrate, stop talking—and that includes negative self-talk. Then, just acknowledge the moment: take a walk around the block, say a little prayer, drive a desolate stretch of road, lounge in a recliner at the end of a busy day, be calm and quiet with a friend, start the morning with a hot cup of coffee out in the garden, watch a sunset with a loved one or do any number of other things throughout the day.

Let the silence in. Silence lets you hear your own thoughts, dream a dream, solve a problem, realize priorities, look to what is possible, explore options, just calm down and enjoy the moment. If you are out in Nature, your silence lets you become one with the vibrant life around you that otherwise may go into hiding at your presence. If you let the silence in, you paradoxically might be able to hear the buzz of a hummingbird’s wing, the quiet whoosh of an owl gliding by, the splash of a fish in the river—items that are often overwhelmed by the noise of civilization.

Let the silence in. Who knows, embracing the silence could bring you peace, insight, renewal so that the noises of day to day living will not be so draining. Let the silence in. By embracing the silence and thus accepting the slowing down and calmness that often goes along with that act, you might just connect to the spiritual world around you.

Now that would be something to shout about!

Mono Lake Reflection

Mono Lake

“Few things under heaven are as instructive as the lessons of Silence.” Lao Tzu

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.” Basho

Arboretum Shade

Arboretum: Sit in the Shade

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