Searching for the absence of noise

What Mel Did - The absence of noise
Image credit: Melinda Fargo

I would say my apartment is a calm and noise-free zone. Even so, when I tried an exercise of mindfulness, I became aware of all the noises we now accept as the norm, to the point where we don’t consider them noise any more.

Commuting from the countryside to the city recently, assaulted by the noise that is London, I went in search of quiet this week. In the amalgam of angry traffic and angry people, I started to wonder when I last noticed the absence of noise.

I would say my apartment is a calm and noise-free zone. Even so, when I tried an exercise of mindfulness, I became aware of all the noises we now accept as the norm, to the point where we don’t consider them noise any more.

There were the many gadgets vying for my attention (of course), with their pings and clicks as though of impending emergency. The low hum of household white goods or the discreet heartbeat of electronics charged with keeping a house safe. The gurgling of oil through the radiator system, forewarned by a belch of activity from its parent, the boiler. The tick, tick, tock of the clocks in the apartment. Although one absence is that of alarm clocks in my life. Since deciding this is too violent a way of waking, I have relied on my natural body clock and inclination to rise early without the aid of this violence.

This muse led me to wondering where I could go when seeking surround-sound quiet. Save entering a monastery, I was hard pushed to think of anywhere. Yes, there are the churches, and I have taken solace in one or two in the past. But I suppose I’m more thinking of places outside of that intentionally pious silence; more somewhere open to write, read or just have a coffee in relative quiet.

My quest took me to the library, although I soon left wondering what had become of that bastion of ssh-shushing and critical stares at any utterance. Photocopiers and other low-hum technology aside, the rule now seemed to be that talking in hissing undertones is tantamount to, well, being silent. Like the tinny sounds from cheap headphones, you can’t quite hear what people are saying, but you know they’re saying something. This needle-like way of conversing is, I offer, more annoying than if library congregants just had a full-blown conversation. Not the library then for the sort of silence I sought.

Perhaps ironically, I came to find the sort of quiet I was after at the office. A room of condolence had been set up for a colleague who had sadly died unexpectedly in a meeting. Closing the door behind me, I was at once struck by its unique, non-ominous silence. It was a feeling of peace, of taking a deep breath and not knowing how much that feeling was needed until within it. A hush which urged me to sit and be still for a while.

I sat, was still and was reluctant to leave.

I have subsequently not found that hard to describe silence in my apartment or anywhere else. That said, I have found a method of active stillness as a result of this muse. It is a mindful choosing not to listen and which I am learning to turn on at will, if only for 5 minutes each day. This includes not listening to the noise and chatter in my own head. The latter is not always easy, but I’m practising.

So, if you happen to ring or ping me a text or knock on my door during this time of silent mindfulness, it is not that I am ignoring you, it’s simply I haven’t heard.

 

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