Silence Is Golden

The world is such a noisy place, isn't it?  Cacophonous, really, with cell phones ringing, televisions and radio's blaring, cars engines surging, road crews pounding, weedwhackers buzzing...incessant.  Talking heads every which way we turn.   It seems as if we're afraid of quiet, as if we won't be able to survive even a few moments in the dentist's waiting room without the latest episode of Oprah to keep us company. And I haven't even mentioned the riotous inner voices, the ones that crescendo in your head - the long to-do lists, the nagging worries about family and friends, concerns about money and health and the state of the world, the anger at those 10 pounds you can't seem to lose - noisy reminders that life is so much less than we'd like it to be.

When my son was small, he created a series of cartoon characters called the Knight Enforcers, whose mission was to abolish all unwanted noise throughout the world.  They'd careen around town in their specially equipped vehicle, looking for babies crying too loudly (his personal pet peeve), construction workers with hyrdaulic drills, and any other poor unsuspecting creature disturbing their sense of aural peace.

Very often, I wish I could call out the Knight Enforcers.

In this month's print issue of More magazine, Katy Butler writes about attending a six-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock, a Buddhist center in Northern California.  Although I often feel myself a victim of noise fatigue, there's also a part of me that feels slightly terrified at the thought of imposed silence, and six days of it...well, frankly, I can't even imagine it. 

However, Butler makes it sound quite appealing.  "By day three," she writes, "my inner state has changed.  The neurotic voices get quieter, then disappear altogether.  My neck ache goes away.  My thoughts meander along, rather than speeding by like cars in a city tunnel.  Some unknown source gives me the energy to sit upright, totally relaxed and silent.  I realize that although I may not control the details of my life, I can control my peace of mind if I choose to."

It's not likely that I'll be attending a silent retreat anytime soon, so I'm looking for ways to gain some of the benefits of silence in my daily life, an antidote to that ever present voice in my head telling me what I should be doing, not to mention the noises imposed so rudely upon me by modern society.  Could it be as simple as taking a few minutes every morning and tuning in to the deeper sounds of my soul?

Perhaps.  Butler refers to a book entitled Happiness Is an Inside Job,by Sylvia Boorstein, who writes that silence "doesn't have to be something holy and elaborate, like a spiritual practice, but just a little me time.  Silence is not self-centered.  It simply counteracts the fact that women, stereotypically at least, are taught to listen not to themselves but to the demands of their community."

Boy, do I know about that.  And those demands, many of which are never even spoken aloud, are just as vociferous as if they were a chorus of noisy jackhammers pounding in my mind's ear.

The remedy?

Spending 5 or 10 minutes each morning, before turning to book or even morning pages journal, sitting quietly with my coffee cup enjoying the rich aroma wafting over the rim.  Eating a meal in silence, savoring each bite, noticing the tastes and textures that pass my lips.  Unplugging for a part of each day - switching off cell phone and radio and computer.  In time, consider expanding these episodes of quiet time into an entire morning, day, or even weekend.

I think I'll give it a try.  At least until the Knight Enforcers get here.