Noisy silence

Do you ever sit in a quiet room and listen, I mean truly listen?  Close your eyes and pay attention.  I can hear the wind off my balcony gently blowing through the trees.  I can hear my refrigerator humming its ubiquitous sound of cold.  I can hear the highway and a steady drone of cars whizzing by.  A bird, a gull I think, probably searching for lunch, loudly.  There’s a banging, somebody doing construction.  Oh yes and a car horn screeching its presence.  Oops, a car alarm screams in protest, at what I do not know.  A truck backs up punctuating the world with his irritating beep, beep, beep, beep…

You see I believe true silence is illusory.  Even when a room is deathly quiet it is not silent.  Spend some time in a library.  It is one of the noisiest places that advocates silence.  Listen carefully.  The librarian is admonishing someone for something.  Someone else is on the phone directing someone to the appropriate department.  With the advent of computers there is a constant clicking of the keyboards.  I can hear pages turning, sometimes in anger.  There is the irritated sigh as someone looks for a book but cannot find it.  Pages rustle and footsteps clack on the uncarpeted floor.  There is no silence here.

Once upon a time our world was much quieter.  We didn’t have cars and computers and the ever present hum of electricity.  Our nights were darker, we didn’t have the light pollution of all the towns around us.  I believe as a people we were calmer.  Now we want more and more.  No matter what we have we crave new and better.  What is that?  What is it the psychobabble of the day is saying: relax, chill, be cool.  Well it’s true!  We live noisy and harried lives.  We rarely seem to take the time to stop and smell the roses.  Even when we relax it’s doing something energetic and noisy.  Ah yes, the sounds of silence:  the ever present white noise that surrounds our lives.  I just heard that they actually sell machines that emit white noise because it is often difficult to sleep when things are too quiet.

I wonder if we would know what to do if all sound stopped.  I wonder if people who are completely deaf actually experienced true silence?  All I know is that my world is noisy and sometimes irritating and I love it all!

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15 thoughts on “Noisy silence

  1. scottishmomus

    I do this in class with the children. For a moment everyone thinks there is silence. And then the background noises emerge.
    It’s great for doing poetry with them. Getting them to listen and create similes/metaphors from what they can hear.
    As you say, never truly quiet.
    I love the sound of perceived silence with noises shushing around me but not really intruding.
    Great post.x

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  2. Howisbradley

    I was discussing light pollution with a friend last night. I commented that I grew up in a small town and remembering how beautiful the sky looked at night.

    I can only imagine what it would be like to experience pure silence. It has become a noisy world.

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  3. MikeW

    Recently I read about the silencing effect of total focus. It is a retold about servicemen whose hearing temporarily disappeared, so to speak, when they should have heard a huge explosion, or when they should have heard their own rifle shooting. Something in us anticipates the extreme, and shuts out the over-stimulus. Discussed is also narrowing of vision. These are talked about as symptoms, yet some also serve a purpose of narrowing focus to the most important thing.

    In voluntary engagement of the faculties to reach out for total focus, I believe the silence sought is subjective, that is, peace in one’s own being whatever may be around them. This is not entirely about hearing or not hearing. Those with attention deficit and other distracting disorders know how disruptive is life is when this kind of focus seems so elusive.

    Consider the expectant frame of reference in your library example. One expects silence there, and the conflict of expectation with reality heightens the volume..OF..EACH..SOUND. What a sound observation in your post!

    Or think of a cricket inside your well insulated home on a relatively quiet night, versus a chorus of crickets together with other sound blending into a background noise that does not alarm you, but gives you a baseline from which to feel confident that you would identify unusual sounds that didn’t belong…

    Perhaps the crickets would stop were there something for you to awaken for. Even so, the focus-effects of sound, whether security-inducing to focus on sleep, or to do the focusing for us by creating a backdrop by contrast, are more than sound! What a Cosmos it is!

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  4. Marsha in the D

    Once I did hear silence. I went skydiving for my fortieth birthday and what struck me the most was there was no sound while I was coming down. The plane was gone. There was no wind. It was only went I got near earth that I began to hear birds. It is such a strong memory of silence.

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    1. quiall Post author

      Wow! I never had the courage to skydive. I did go out on a glider plane once and you’re right about the silence. It was a powerful experience.

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      1. quiall Post author

        Since I had arranged the trip for my Mother (87). I never acrually thought how I would feel when I went up. I didn’t remember to be afraid until it was over. I was awed by the sights and the silence. Crazy!

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