Searching for Silence in a Noisy World

Silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept. ~Henri Nouwen

spiral galaxy

Recently, in a doctor’s office waiting room, three other women and I contently read books while the lone man sitting in front of me slouched in his chair. The doctor’s technician entered, looked around, and without asking, said, “It’s way too quiet in here. I’m going to turn on the TV.” Soon, Pa, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe galloped across the screen, their musical accompaniment invading our quiet reverie.

Cast of Bonanza

Cast of Bonanza

This technician made an assumption about us. The room was not “way to quiet” for any of us, as our discussion following her intrusion indicated. Later, I asked her if she was uncomfortable with silence. She admitted she was and proceeded to describe how she incorporates “noise” into her world. She gave me a strange look when I told her, “I’m a contemplative. I enjoy silence.”

One of my pet peeves is being put on hold to loud, thumping music. A soft reminder that those I’m calling are still on the line would suffice, in my opinion. Rarely are they able to grant my request for silence. Most of the time I’m forced to wait out their jarring music while accomplishing nothing.

“Can’t people handle silence anymore?” I wonder. To me, it seems our world gets noisier all the time.

Horseshoe Falls

Often in our solitude, we can discover the miracles of life…taking our path of aloneness deep enough through the woods so we can reach that unspoiled clearing. ~Mark Nepo

I’m retired and live alone. While I need and very much enjoy the company of my family and friends, I have the luxury of a great deal of solitude and silence in my home. When I read spiritual literature, I need silent concentration to discover the deeper message. And when I write, with my contemplative style, solitude and silence give me the possibility of experiencing the inner fire of the Divine. Writing my memoir, mostly in solitude and silence, I reached Mark Nepo’s “unspoiled clearing,” making the process eminently worthwhile.

While I was contemplating writing on this topic, I heard an interesting NPR interview with Olivia Block, a composer from Chicago.

Olivia values and seeks out the loud sounds in her hometown, one of the noisiest of cities. She hears music in the tones of the elevated train’s brakes; textures in snippets of conversations, cell phones ringing, water lapping against rocks, two bottles banging together; the blending of prairie with the urban as the wind bangs rods together in a sculpture near a skyscraper. She finds this noise beautiful, often striking her in a cinematic way, helping her hear language differently.

I have writing friends who seek out noisy places or groups in order to write. It works for them. For the companionship, I wish it did for me. But because of our need for solitude, my writing partner and I found it necessary to write separately and then come together to share and give feedback.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. ~Audre Lorde

With the advent of technology, we have become increasingly aware of the vast differences among us. Audre Lorde’s wisdom is needed in a world hurting from attempts to annihilate the differences that are feared…the diversity making us uncomfortable and others wrong.

In the face of global violence, my request is miniscule. Still, I ask consideration for those among us, like me, who find our noisy world jarring and actually value the gifts of silence and solitude. Before assuming, it’s “way too quiet,” please ask. Perhaps if we can learn to recognize and accept such a tiny difference, we can learn to celebrate the ones we fear.

Vive la difference!

How are you challenged to recognize, accept, and celebrate differences?

What request do you bring to the table?