Listening to the quiet

Noise pollution is one of those often disregarded evils of modern living. Urban environments are noisy places, many folks socialise in places where shouting is the required means of communication. We are surrounded by the hum of electrical gadgets, the noise of piped in entertainment-wallpaper. Even at night, the racket doesn’t go away and the traffic noise never ceases.

Cars are remarkably loud, the sound of them carrying over miles. The faster a car goes, the more noise it makes. The sheer density of traffic on our roads makes for an insane amount of volume. Background music seem ubiquitous in shopping spaces, and people shout. I have no idea why people shout, but to make themselves heard over the rest of the noise, plenty of folk respond by raising voices rather than moving closer together. I was in a pub the other day, full of people shouting at each other. I find it very wearing.

Quiet is good for the soul. I love being able to whisper – the intimacy of it, the tranquillity. Moving softly through the world, able to hear the small noises of wind, leaves, birds and rodents, makes me a lot happier. Being able to listen. In school my child has struggled because he doesn’t know how to tune out the wall of noise. He’s not grown up with a television forever blaring away in the background, he doesn’t know how to ignore what he hears.

People are adept at learning to tune out sounds and visual input around them. I don’t have this knack either, and information intense city spaces do horrible things to my mind. I don’t want to cultivate the kind of obliviousness that could let me be ok in such places. Nor do I think I should have to. What on earth is the point expending energy to bombard people with information they carefully ignore? What a waste! What total pointlessness. People learning not to see and not to hear, not to notice or pay attention. It feels very wrong to me.

I’ve taken urban people into woods, and watched them go through the process of realising that each tree is an individual entity and can be experienced as such – it’s not just a green background. I’ve been responded to like some kind of magic worker because I notice and can point out the birds, animals and plants that they would not notice. It grieves me to realise how alien this is for some folks – pagan folk at that, probably less oblivious than average.

As a culture, we seem keen on being noisy. Most people find it hard to sit in total silence. I find the loudness makes it hard to think – but perhaps that’s the point. In the quiet moments, in the stillness, other thoughts emerge. You can blot out the big questions and serious issues with noise. You can train yourself to not notice. In silence, there is nowhere to hide. Mainstream culture inclines people to think they need to make themselves heard, literally. Silence is subversive. It has its own power. Silence begets though and insight, it is parent to awareness and truth. Silence enables learning and understanding, and the chance to hear the voice of spirit. Resist the loudness of the world. Protest against it, very, very quietly. Peace seems to be one of the most striking forms of rebellion at our disposal. Ours to claim, with all its mystery and beauty.