Hearing Ourselves Think

dream-of-a-fall-dayYou’re reading on a beautiful fall day, maybe on the porch or by an open window–because the day is so lovely. Then your neighbor–the yard proud folks across the street–start up their leaf blower. Not to be outdone, the gal next to them has to do her weed whacking at the same time. What are beautiful fall days for, after all?

When the weed whacker and the leaf blower finally fall silent, you rejoice. You feel bodily and emotional relief, and will wish a Very Bad Fate on the next joker who fires up some piece of equipment.

blogxramxdassxsilenceYou’re experiencing the benefits of quiet, which are physiological and emotional. Silence helps lower our blood pressure and increase blood flow to our brains, it promotes the generation of new brain cells, reduces stress, and fosters creativity.

Noise, by contrast isn’t such a good thing. Loud noise wrecks our hearing of course, but even noise that’s not loud enough to hurt our hearing does damage. We learn to tune it out–which means we’re also tuning out things we should be listening to, like classroom teachers. We become “attentionally deaf” instead of aurally deaf.

blogxyourxwordsSudden noises (think of a jackhammer starting up, stopping, starting up; car horns; engine backfires), provokes our stress response, and if we endure too much of that, the results can affect our heart health, sleeping patterns, even our basal metabolic rates.

I didn’t start writing fiction until my daughter moved out. She’s a quiet person, but when she got her own apartment, the house became all but silent. A cat scampering across the kitchen, the well pump cutting on and off in the basement, a dog barking two farms over… that is the extent of the noise in my nest. I can daydream and compose stories in peace.

I’ve wondered if half the benefit of meditation isn’t simply that we tend to find quiet places to attempt it. Same for reading. We can read in noisy environments, but most often, we read where it’s quiet. We garden where it’s quiet. One of the reasons I do not like the gym is because it’s NEVER quiet.

bell_if-i-only-had-a-duke_smallWhen it comes to silence, I’m wealthy, compared to most people. My office is quiet, my house is quiet. I drive between the two for the most part in silence, or I might listen to traditional Scottish music, which is hardly truck-thumping stuff. I sit out on my front porch with my first cup of tea of the day, and often, not a single care goes by.

in this raucous, noisy, contentious season, where do you have silence? Where could you add some to your weekly routine? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Lenora Bell’s “If I Only Had a Duke,” which is about a lady who only seems quiet-natured….



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29 comments on “Hearing Ourselves Think

  1. I am retired and live alone. I’m blessed to have plenty of silence and I do appreciate it. Starting in early Spring through late Fall I love to sit on my front porch (Monday through Friday) and enjoy the peacefulness of the neighborhood. Birds, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies all love my flowers and I love to watch them. I often use the time to meditate or pray. It’s lovely.

    However, come Saturday, the whole tenor of the neighborhood changes. The lawn mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers suddenly take over. Cars are racing up and down the street. But it’s okay, I understand it. When I worked, that’s when I did my lawn or went to grocery. I know that I’m blessed to have as much quite time as I do.

  2. My quiet time is in the morning. Molly and I go for a quick walk outside and I appreciate the quiet. We often see the sun rise and it’s a beautiful sight, My day starts the minute we walk back into the house!

    It’s quiet this morning as my daughter and husband are sleep. The dogs are outside enjoying the fall day. I am having a cup of coffee before I need to get ready for work. I appreciate quiet Sunday mornings…the tv is off, the phone doesn’t ring and the neighborhood is quiet. It’s fun to listen to the birds– no lawn mowers, weed walkers or cars.

    I have been adjusting to my new work schedule. I had my quiet time before work and now I feel that I have a lot to do before I get out the door. Am driving in rush hour traffic and the commute is stressful.. Quality time has factored into my decision about leaving job #2.
    Need time to take a walk, practice with Celeste and Greg and to enjoy the quiet.

    • Murphy-dog makes sure that almost before my eyes are open, I have to open a door and see the day outside. He has a big, fenced back yard to patrol, while the cats are in charge of the front yard. They too, make sure I get out to see the day before I even have my first cup of tea. I’ll often drink it on the front porch, cats enjoying their breakfast on the walk, Murphy sniffing the fence a few yards away. I love these days.

      (And glad you’re down to one job. Somebody will be thrilled to step into your shoes for the holiday rush at Talbot’s.)

  3. Sitting on my deck in the late afternoon, Bassett hound laying in the sun and the neighborhood is quiet (usually). I enjoy watching the birds in my feeders, autumn sun turning the leaves bold colors and appreciating the sounds of nature.

    One of my absolute favorite things to do is take a walk at night when it’s snowing. Absolute silence.

  4. I’ve mentioned before, I am a musician, a choral conductor to be exact. I need silence when I prepare a rehearsal so I can look at the music and hear it in my head. That *hearing it in my head* helps me hear what I want when my singers are involved. I need it and crave that silence so I can cleanse my palate. It may not make sense but…….it works for me.

    One of my sons is a budding concert pianist and practices (here, on my Steinway) all the live long day. We have gotten so we tune him out when need be and in a way, that’s too bad. But we need to do it and he needs to practice and we have a wonderful piano for him to do so. And that’s the way it is.

    • I used to get up and practice technique for an hour to ninety minutes every morning, usually at 5 am. The rest of the family never complained, for which I was most grateful. Something about using that alpha-wave window to do technique made it especially productive and centering.

      And then, into the world I would go.

      I write best in silence, and in part, it’s the same thing you allude to: I need to hear the dialogue, the string quartet, Lord Valentine ripping through Scarlatti. How could I possibly pick up on all that if I’m sitting at Starbucks?

  5. I find quiet and peace in my bed or in hidden places at church or the library. I feel blessed by quiet moments to read and enjoy. Fall is a beautiful season – I loved it in Japan. Thank you for your books. They bless me in my reading!

    • Amy, you remind me of my elementary school, which was run by Catholic nuns. The church was right next door, and we were allowed to go there during recess. It always felt more like a church to me when empty, and the silence in a huge space is special.

      Then they started locking the church during the day…

  6. I used to enjoy silence, peace, and solitude on a regular basis, but once my kids came along, the peaceful silence became a thing of the past. I awoke to crying babies, recreated train crashes with a very loud and energetic little boy all day long, and ended each day with at least one child crying about having to go to bed. I didn’t realize how much I needed silence until it became a rare occurrence. But, last month, my youngest child started preschool and I now have the most glorious, silence-filled 2.5 hours a day and it has been life-changing!! Quiet walks in the woods, reading, and even occasional house cleaning have made me more centered, calm, and ready for the rest of my inevitably loud day.

    • Becoming a mom (a single mom) made me aware of how much I love silence, but also, how much I love having dominion over my body. Love the kid to pieces, but I got “cuddled out” when she was a baby who didn’t need much sleep. And a toddler… now, I’d give anything to be able to hug her more frequently. Such is motherhood.

  7. I have neighbors all around me, but am rarely bothered by noise from them. Even if they are mowing the lawn that lasts for just half an hour. It’s nice sometimes to hear a bit of noise to let me know that there are people around. The birds can be annoying sometimes – the crows that caw or doves that coo (usually early morning when I just want 15 more minutes of snooze time).

    • Yes, BIRDS! I feed dry cat food out on my walk, and the cats take as much as they want. Then those great, big, honkin’ ravens start in with the cawing and flapping and “you get away from that!” I can almost tell time by them.

  8. I ride the Quiet Car on the Chicago Metro train – a godsend in the evening – no cell phones, no loud music, no loud conversations. Just the sound of the train on the track – clickety-clack, clickety-clack. When I get home I go upstairs to my computer and read e-mail, blogs, Facebook – my beloved husband realizes I need quiet time after the bustle of work.

    • Those quiet cars are such a treat. When I land in London, I schlep from the airport to Kings Cross Station–not just city, but huge city, different culture, on a sleepless night. To get onto the express train north in a quiet car is the best, best way to finish the trip to Scotland. Four hours of beautiful countryside, and relaxation, with all the wifi you can ask for.

  9. “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
    –Robert Louis Stevenson

    Working on it…

    • I moved out to the country with an 18-month-old and expected quiet as well, but as one neighbor pointed out, the sounds here are isolated. A dog barking two farms over. A tractor going by. A siren somewhere up the valley. You HEAR all of that, whereas when I lived in downtown DC, I learned to sleep through sirens going by right outside my window. Here, a horse whinnying can wake me up.

  10. Sometimes, when I really need quiet, I go into the washroom….. not because I need to use it, for the most part…. but because it’s rarely questioned as to why someone was in there for so long… Thus, I can read quietly, at total peace… and I can get lost in it at times. And when I seem to get lost in there, I will often have the appearance of a sweet dear memory…..When I was gone a little too long, my sweet little dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, V-V, would peak her head around the door with a look that said: “Really!!! Just how long ARE you going to stay in there” LOL
    And, thus, the silence also recharges my memory of that sweet little soul whom I miss so very, very much.

    • I grew up sharing a house with eight other people. We had only a bath and a half for many years, and yet, there was a quality of sanctuary about being able to go at least that one place with a guarantee of privacy…

      I’m still holding out for the heated potty seat though.

  11. I thought we moved to a quite neighborhood. An older neighborhood. Little did I know that my close neighbors were all retired and lived for their yards. Was not uncommon for them to start at 7 in the morning – weed wacking, lawn mowing, hedge clipping, leaf blowers – you name it (and snow blowers in winter). It wasn’t so bad when I worked and was gone before 6 in the morning but they did it on weekends too! And then I quit work to raise my girls. I never, ever got enough sleep (sigh). We bought purposely on a dead end street surrounded by woods. The year I had my first child they opened up our street (we were told it wouldn’t happen because it was two different counties but money will do anything). They sold the farm land and put in new homes. Down went some of the trees and our street was a through way so I couldn’t even let my girls play in the front. My quiet time was in the early morning when I could read in peace (after my girls were older). I’m a night owl at heart. And now I have a part-time job so I have to get up early again – such is life!

    • I thought I moved to the countryside for peace and quiet. Little did I know the dairy farm across the lane had previously been an egg operation. When they lost the egg contract, they just let all those chickens go, and the pine trees outside my eighteen month old’s windows were usually full of feral roosters.

      I’m a vegetarian and a pacifist, but when those guys started up at three in three in the morning and Woke My Baby, I was ready to murder them all.

  12. I’m wealthy in quiet serenity too….until I chose to crank up favorite music. The calm environment becomes self perpetuating, a gift I share with stressed out friends who visit for respite from their hectic noisy families/lives.

    • Quiet is powerful! I’m usually pretty wound up by Thursday night, especially if I’ve spent the day in court, and week preparing for court. I find it takes all day Friday, at home, puttering in my jammies, to get my gyroscope back on track.

      No matter how badly I slept Thursday night, no matter how splody my head, peace and quiet will usually settle my feather.

      You’re generous to share yours with your impoverished friends.

  13. We are retired and live far from family. A few years ago I went through a stressful period and became uninterested in watching tv. I still don’t watch and have become so quiet-dependent that I don’t listen to music unless it’s in the car or on a plane. When we are near family I feel very annoyed by the constant tv noise and went so far one year at Christmas dinner (which I had mostly prepared) as to turn the football game off. Things calmed down a lot, maybe because it shocked everyone but we ended up talking and laughing and playing games of our own, which I feel was a much better use of the day.