The habit of being quiet

Some of the most serene people I know have a habit of being quiet at home.

Whether they live alone or with other people, these souls seem to prefer and practice living without the constant background noise that pervades many of our dwellings.

One such person rises each morning and makes it a point not to turn on the radio or television while getting ready for her job in a busy, production-driven office. Another who is at home during the day also keeps the radio and TV off, lets an answering device catch most of her phone calls, and, if she does play music, chooses soothing chants.

For these quiet-keepers, the stretches of silence and stillness in their lives spill over to those they meet. Despite whatever stress threatens to disturb their peace, both manage to convey a sense of repose in which they are receptive and willing to listen to people. In conversations, they do not interrupt or finish sentences. They ask questions that reflect a genuine interest in the other person. Being in their presence is peaceful and affirming.

Such people are models for me as I seek to live more quietly, yet struggle with a temperament that is more prone to jumpiness than calm. (My quiet mother lamented throughout my early life that I was in “perpetual motion.”) My profession did little to settle me down, thrusting me into an atmosphere of nearly constant stimulation that fed those natural tendencies. Today, removed from that setting, I sometimes still find it challenging to maintain quiet while working out of my home. In that, I do not seem to be alone. Increasingly, it seems, many of us think we need some kind of ambient noise to be productive and creative whether it’s music or an app like Coffitivity, which delivers the sounds of a coffee shop to our computers. Coffitivity, by the way, claims research shows that ambient noise, like the sound mix of “calm and commotion” found in a coffee shop, can aid creativity.

I have written with some success in such settings, yet I find value in silence. So for me, instead of giving in to the impulse to break it by introducing sound, I am working on developing more of a taste for quiet.

Rather than turn to electronic sound or even the kind of visual noise the Internet offers with its insistent invitations to look at a picture, video, or the latest trend, I am challenging myself to accept and live with the discomfort silence sometimes brings.

In the 40-day season of Lent, which began this week, I am joining others who are fasting by unplugging some of their media connections to admit more silence into our noisy, distracted lives. Unsettling though this can be, I am hopeful that, as I experience the hunger of silence, I will begin to cultivate a mind and spirit that is less cluttered and more receptive to the gentle whispers I fail to detect when I stuff myself with the junk food of noise and information.

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