Pockets of peace

Like finding the perfect home, the quest for quiet would seem to be about location. But in our noise-driven world, the peace we try to carve out of the chaos around us often is disturbed by all manner of sound. IMG_1454

Neighborhoods touted by realtors as “quiet” can easily erupt into auditory mayhem, especially on weekends when power tools and lawn equipment emerge from garages. Or, when a new family arrives on the block with two barking dogs and installs an outdoor sound system.  Even rural dwellers learn that not all people move out of the city for the same reason when they discover their neighbor’s idea of country living is having a place to race ATVs, or a winter night’s stillness is broken by the whine of snowmobiles.

So what to do if you are a quiet-seeker dwelling among people who are fond of two-cycle engines and loud music?

Having lived in urban and small-town neighborhoods as well as the country, my husband and I have found that talking with persistent noisemakers does not typically bring about a lasting peace.  First of all, one person’s noise is another’s delightful distraction or good clean fun. For example, a family member who lives near an airport and railroad tracks tells us he loves hearing large planes fly over his house and the rumble of a train in the not-so-far distance.

Because those who create what seems like excessive noise to some of us do not often take kindly to suggestions that they lower the volume, lovers of quiet sometimes have no choice but to leave a noisy place, either permanently, which is not always practical, or temporarily.

Although I live in what, for the moment at least, is a mostly peaceful setting, I’ve always had quiet escapes. When I was a suburban dweller, my favorite getaway spots inIMG_1353cluded a park with wooded trails, one of which had a stand of pines with an inviting opening that seemed to breathe calm. Another of my escapes was cycling out to an area where I could sit on the sand and listen to the water lapping against the shore. When I worked in a windowless cubicle in a newspaper office, I would sometimes use my breaks to take walks or sit by a fountain in a downtown park. In less pleasant weather, the public library was a ready refuge. Even now, if I am in the midst of a busy schedule of errands and appointments, stopping at an art gallery, a museum, or  a bookstore offers some respite from the rush.

These pockets of peace, I have found, make it possible to endure the noise, whether it’s in a neighborhood, a work environment, or my own mind. If I can slip into one for 15 minutes or an hour, I can return to the madness refreshed and renewed.

This is obviously an imperfect solution, especially for those of us who have created some quiet space in our homes and feel as if we are being driven from it by others’ predilection for noise. Gail, a reader of my recent post on “Engaging Silence” said after long, stressful days at work, she craves the quiet of home and yard, listening to water from a fountain and bird song. Sometimes, however,  she can’t even hear those sounds because of “everything from blowers to mowers to motorcycles and blaring music.”

In such cases, when you can’t flee, I’d like to think it’s possible to minimize the audio-annoyances around us by cultivating and calling upon some interior peace. The friend who serves as a guide for this blog did this recently when, as she said, she was “anticipating noise” from new neighbors who moved in and parked several vehicles in their driveway. As she thought about what this might mean, she was able to make peace with the prospect of more noise, much as she does when the neighbor children and their friends play all summer long in the common space outside her sun porches.

I saw evidence of this a few weeks ago when I noticed two nuns from a local monastery at one of those enormous warehouse stores that specialize in bulk everything. Unlike the other shoppers I encountered that day, these two had an air of serenity as they pushed their cart through the cavernous, sometimes overwhelming store.  They were identifiable by their religious garb, but almost more by the gentleness that they exuded. I felt more calm and able to deal with the dizzying display of merchandise just by having encountered them.IMG_1350

Although their days are filled with many of the mundane tasks the rest of us perform — preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning, gardening, and in this case, shopping – they do most of their work in silence, interspersing it with periods of prayer.

We can draw something from their way of life, I think, without moving to the cloister. The women I met that day were not rattled, rushed, or rude when I approached them to ask if they were indeed from the nearby monastery. They were welcoming, open, and unhurried, as if we had met in the cloister.

In her memoir, Redeemed, writer Heather King says, “I am pretty sure that if everyone did a few simple things – observed an hour of silence, prayed for an hour, looked, really looked, for an hour each day – the world would be transformed.”

We can’t all be contemplative nuns, but we can do some of what they do by taking an hour a day to be quiet and to look, really look, and — just maybe — be transformed and bring the quiet we cherish to our noisy world.

16 thoughts on “Pockets of peace

  1. “…those of us who have created some quiet space in our homes and feel as if we are being driven from it by others’ predilection for noise.” Raising my hand here — this is me 100%. I really struggle with this because I let myself get angry that I’m being driven from my home by inconsiderate neighbors. My home is supposed to BE my place of peace and quiet. But being angry won’t fix the problem. I know I need to change my attitude and learn how to create some of that inner peace. Thanks for the reminder — I really liked this post, Judy.

    • Thanks, Kim! I’m with you and know of what you speak. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where the preference for quiet was respected as much as the right to make noise?

  2. After having just moved from our home in CT and endured 18 of our 20 years there with one neighbor’s succession of dogs barking incessantly, the value and importance of quiet is truly appreciated. However, like your friend, I sometimes miss the sound of trains in the distance – a sound that reminds me of my home as a youth. And that may be the key to having peace in the presence of sound – it is how we identify it. For some, noise is almost anything not emanating from themselves: waves on a shore, birds twittering, wind chimes, foghorns off shore, etc. For others, these sounds are part and parcel of living in the world. Interior silence is key to being at peace. Barking dogs are the exception, I think. Unless that barking dog is a Saint Bernard rescuing you from a snowdrift – what a wonderful sound that would be!

    • Very nicely put, Bill. I agree that the perception of sound as beauty or annoyance is in the ear of the listener. For instance, I don’t mind hearing a train as much as my husband does, and I love wind chimes, but a friend finds them annoying. You are so right in saying that “interior silence is key to being at peace.” Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  3. I really appreciated all the different ways that you consciously seek out refuges of peace, quiet and solitude, even when surrounded by noise. I have found myself doing similar things to sustain quiet. Sometimes I can find it in my own space and sometimes I find other places of retreat. More and more, I seek the soothing balm of God’s quiet stillness within my own inner sanctuary. Thanks for your rich insights!

  4. I, too, have had my moments of peace disturbed by lawn mowers, jet skis, barking dogs, fireworks, etc, even up in northern Michigan where my husband wanted to get away from it all. The early morning, before the noise begins, is my favorite time to sit on the dock with my binoculars to watch the birds, or do some fishing before the noise of the day begins. When we’re not up north at the cottage, I love to sit and begin the day with reading and reflection, to gently ease into the day. Beginning the day in this way seems to make me more tolerant of the noise. When my job begins again in the fall (I’m an elementary teacher), it will become more challenging to find these pockets of peace amid the whirlwind of school, but I feel that I am a better teacher after allowing myself some quiet time. Thank you for your reminder to enjoy a little peace every day!

    • Thank you, Josie, for this lovely picture of beginning each day with quiet and reflection. I agree that doing what you do can help us deal with the noise. May you find those pockets of peace in your classroom as the new school year begins!

  5. Interesting essay, Kim. Myself, a lover of quiet, am always looking for those pockets of quiet during the day, often not finding much after 6a.m.

    I find that I’m quite tolerant of “natural” noise like birds that call at 4 a.m. or even spring peepers (barking dogs are not in this category), where others rant about being awakened by them. One of my favorite noises is the sound of waves. I so look forward to them in our yearly winter vacation in San Diego on the ocean. So I guess I’m not such a noise phobe as I thought.

    • I think we have similar taste in sounds, Gail! I rather enjoy being awakened by bird song, although I do recall a friend once saying he found singing wrens a little irritating. And how nice to be looking forward to listening to the waves on your winter vacation. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Thanks so much for explaining “me” so well:-) Like you, I have found specific pockets of peace that allow me to clear my mind, meditate, and listen for God.

    My 87 year old mother has been living with my husband and me for 10 years. It has been 10 years since I have enjoyed “alone” time in my home, and my mom watches (or listens to) loud TV almost 24 hours a day. And to boot, she watches political shows that do not reflect my values. Double craziness for me:-)

    Anyway, my pocket of peace is usually my lunchtime walk at work. The walk starts with the traffic noise blasting, however, as I contiue back, those noises fade away. My destination is a little spot to sit…looking out at a green field with wildflowers and trees. The sounds consist of birds chirping and crickets. That hour of time to myself is my saving grace. I usually get my blogging ideas during that time.

    Another place of peace for me is my back deck. I love to sit back there in the morning, or late at night with my party lights shining overhead, with a cup of coffee or a beer.

    I felt peaceful just from reading your blog. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Bernadette! It sounds as if you have found some beautiful and convenient “pockets of peace” to provide a respite from the challenges of living with someone who watches TV nonstop. That said, I applaud you for making a home for your mother and sacrificing your own alone time. You’ll not regret what you gave after she is gone. I’m so pleased that you wrote and that I have now discovered your blog, too!

  7. This summer has been like that for me — there is construction going on everywhere in my neighbourhood, road construction, new houses going up, and if it’s not that, it’s mowers and whipper snipers. It’s impossible to get away from it. Many times I have settled down to read in my screened-in patio only to go back in a few minutes later.

    I do have a couple of spots I like to retreat to that give me serenity, thankfully. Also, writing haiku has a wonderful calming effect on me. It gives me inner silence. 🙂

    • My sympathies on your suffering through a summer of noise, Gisele! I do love your idea of writing haiku. That’s something I haven’t attempted since grammar school, and it may be time to take it up. Thank you for that thought and for writing!

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