Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Power of Quiet

Recently, I had the opportunity to be in a soundproof room. We're talking padded, carpeted walls with absolutely no sound -- nothing -- penetrating the walls. I was in there by myself, and the minute I was left alone I let out a sigh. It was like all the air left my body, and my posture immediately relaxed into the chair.

I was in that room by myself for about 10 minutes, and it was absolutely remarkable. Seriously, I cannot recall any time in my life that there was absolute quiet. There was nothing for me to do but just sit there and listen to...nothing.

It felt like a gift. Something given to me unexpectedly in the face of an often chaotic life where I try and meet the demands of my professional and personal life on a minute-by-minute basis.

I've thought many times about that soundless room in the last few weeks, as my stress level often peaks and I search for ways to relieve it -- reading, listening to soft music, exercising, visiting with family. But I've got to say, I think very longingly of my quiet room. It's as if that room said to me: "It's OK. Turn everything off. Quiet yourself and just be."

This week I noticed a couple of posts by blogger Tiffany Monhollon and I was struck by the anxiety and confusion she felt as she tried to figure out the issues facing her and GenY, and why it all seemed so hard. I immediately remembered how I felt starting out in the world, and the same stress of trying to keep my personal and professional life on track, while trying to make sense of the world. I told her that generations before her had faced the same dilemma called life, and sometimes we all need to just remember what we have in this life...not what we don't have.

But one thing I didn't tell her was that I do believe the constant barrage of information and just noise hitting the younger generation is something older workers didn't face in their early careers. We were given a chance to just think, to walk out of our workplace and not resume the job until we re-entered the next day. We weren't expected to be on call to a computer and pager and cell phone.

In the latest issue of Esquire magazine, an acoustic ecologist says that in 1984 there were some 21 spots in Washington state where there were at least 15 minutes during which no man-made sounds could be heard. Today, there are only three.

The writer of the story used this information in a story about how he had always been quite the talker, but spent some time recently simply not speaking. He found the less he talked, the easier it was to shut things out. "Used right," he said, "silence communicates trust. It's like carrying a holstered gun....It's not dangerous; it's in the holster. But people notice. It can't kill anyone, but they see what you are carrying. Silence makes you the sheriff."

So, here's a new challenge for all of us. Shut it off. All of it. Try to eliminate every hum and rattle of your world for at least 15 minutes every week. Try to talk less and just be.

Then, let me know if you find what you've been looking for...



Anonymous said...

I think you've definitely hit on something here. Not only the constant noise that surrounds my generation (from an early age on), but the constant inpouring of information. It makes a curious mind reach overload easily. I was talking to a friend the other night, for example, about my research, and she offered me about 10 new blogs/websites that I need to add to my reading diet to inform some of my thinking on the framework I'm developing for my thesis. It was an incredible gift, but at the same time overwhelming to think of tackling even more.

To Gen Y, noise is something that's not just audible, but visual as well. Even conceptual. Finding true quiet is a real quest, but I love that your challenge is to find 15 minutes of it a week. I'm definintely going to try that this week.

Thanks for the shout out and the ideas!

Anita said...

The other day my server crashed for about four hours, and while initially angry, I later was grateful for it. I couldn't get on the Internet, or deal with e-mail. So I cleaned my office and organized my files....and believe it or not, I enjoyed it! I liked not feeling guilty for just doing such mundane tasks. I was almost disappointed when my server returned ....

Anonymous said...


Many people find that the silence they are looking for, the silence that you mention, is not just "silence"--it's rather a search for meaning, an opportunity to commune with the the transcendent, something higher and more essential than the scurrying little activities of Man.

In a word, they want the profound silence of God. For example, the movie "Into Great Silence" is an unexpected hit, and it follows the lives of Catholic monks who have taken a vow of silence--there are only a few spoken words in the entire film. It just came out on DVD.

You can cultivate a time for silent communing with God into every day, if you want to. For those who are interested but don't know where to begin, these books can be helpful:
1. Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer:

and 2. Prayer Primer : Igniting a Fire Within by Thomas DuBay

Wishing everyone the best.

Anita said...

Thanks for taking the time to list such resources for other readers of this blog...!