In praise of silence

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:11

    Shortly after that crazy October snowstorm blew through here and well into our second evening without power, just as the novelty of doing everything by candlelight was beginning to wear off, I noticed something else. Silence. A type and quality of soundlessness quite unknown anymore, it was remarkable. I could almost hear the air. And a relaxing peace, like an exhale, took hold. No more hum of the refrigerator. No more buzzing light bulbs. Gone the thrum of the water pump. No flushing, no phone rings, no answering-machine beeps, no clicks of the light switch, no printer clack. Even the purring of my computer’s inner workings, so vital to me, now temporarily silenced. All of these sounds we live with; most we don’t even register. That it took me so long to recognize the absence of background noise proves how quickly I move through my life, how cluttered it is with chores - the To-do lists, the yadda, yadda, yaddas, the blah, blah, blahs - all those sounds, noises really, that I don’t even hear. This newfound quiet worked its magic. It said: Slow down. Think. Rest. I was struck then by the sound of the wind, the creaking floorboards, my own breath, in and out. So this is how the past sounds. The pace of life had slowed to “real time.” Really. But then, the power returned. Life resumed where we left off. And, though I sketched out a column about how much I appreciated the silence, well, things just got busy again. I was never able to marshal my thoughts around the concept. Too many must-dos are pulling me in too many directions. But on New Year’s Day, an article in The New York Times pulled me back to this theme. In “The Joy of Quiet,” writer Pico Iyer talks of the emergent need to escape information overload, and how some people have created technology Sabbaths, specific days when they put aside the computer, phone, TV, and revert to a more primitive lifestyle: Talking, walking, reading. That’s all in the name of disconnecting from our cultural pressures and reconnecting with ourselves. Iyer even mentioned a study done at Intel a few years back in which a group of employees were given “four hours of uninterrupted quiet time every Tuesday morning...They could not use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think.” Iyer talks of those who go on monastic retreats, himself included, and savor the solitude, their distance from our fast-paced world full of sounds, noises and demands upon our thoughts. For me, this kind of quiet world holds great appeal. About a month ago I learned of a silent retreat: No one speaks. Instead, they walk, think, read, do what they wish, but silently. What a beautiful idea. If just for a few days. If ever “Tune in, turn on, drop out” needed a revamping, it would be today. When was the last time you tuned out, turned off and dropped in to let yourself think, let your thoughts rove from present to memory to idea and back around again? Just as I’d recommend a good book or a favorite author, a good recipe or a great restaurant, may I recommend a bit of silence? Unplug, detach and power down for a bit and breathe. If you can think of no place or time so free in your daily grind, here are a few suggestions: In your car, windows up, radio off, even while driving. The library. A park. The bathtub. In this new year of hope and expectations, pressures and stresses, I wish everyone the time to appreciate silence. To hear the absence of sounds. And your own thoughts. Beth Kalet is managing editor of The Advertiser-News. She lives in Warwick.