In my summit season, I seem to seek peace and quiet more urgently because the world about me has become increasingly cacophonous.
Noise seems to bring out the worst in everyone; it is a form of air pollution that takes a toll on our bodies by increasing our blood pressure and heart rate and stressing our minds. Repeated super-loud noise is not only a nuisance and assault to our ears, but can actually cause deafness. Stress hormones from noise surge into our bloodstream and contribute to illness.
Where can I find the quiet I long for? Can I ever escape noise in our modern world? I endure the blast of industrial noise in the name of progress, the clank and bang of construction with pneumatic jack hammers, air compressors, dump trucks, bulldozers, loaders, cement trucks, and pavement breakers that seem to be everywhere in crowded urban areas.
A move to the suburbs? That simply substitutes one environmental noise for another. There is the deafening whirr and roar of power lawnmowers. I've heard of “environmentally friendly vegetation management.” Someone started a business called “Goats-R-Us.” They lease “Soft and Silent Machines” with four legs and horns that don't honk which are guaranteed to take care of lawns or fields. In the process they consume most of the things one would normally take to the dumpster!
People pay big money for vacation trips to escape to some quiet corner of the world only to discover that there is no silence on fantasy island.
In the search for silence, some corporations install quiet “nap pods” for the use of executives and employees during break time. Some hotel chains designate quiet floors; certain hospitals mandate “quiet time” for an hour or two daily in an effort toward healing and rest. The practice has met with enthusiastic response from patients. Daycare centers include quiet times to counter the constant hubbub of active young children.
Our search for mental repose may lead to the purchase of noise cancellation headphones which emit opposing sound waves to mask noise. One could go the cheaper route of earplugs. Virtually soundproof rooms with carpeted walls, ceilings, and floors are in demand for installation in certain buildings. Anechoic chambers have been experimented with to test whether human beings can exist in absolute silence. So far the results have been negative and far from healthful—no one seems to be able to endure complete absence of sound very long before panic set in. I recently heard about noise-masking machines to distract our ears by emitting a drone-like monotonous hum.
Well then, can laws force silence? The EPA has determined that noise above 55 decibels outdoors and 45 decibels indoors is detrimental to concentration and work production. It's a fact that noise levels of more than 100 decibels are the norm on today’s dance floors! I heard of a rock music festival that tried out a “silent disco.” Everyone wore wireless headphones to individually hear the music and partied until dawn without disturbing nearby residents. Activist groups rally to increase awareness of noise pollution; they lobby to fight it by trying to adopt noise codes. Community planners erect sound barriers along heavy traffic highways to deaden the never-ending, nerve-racking honking, roar, blare, rumble, and screech of commuters and freight transport.
Complete silence may not really exist. But in an effort to find it, a park outside Los Angeles offered a two hour silent hike to “let nature speak for itself.” However, even our God-created natural world is surprisingly noisy. Living creatures buzz, chirp, croak, squawk, cackle, screech, hoot, bellow, moo, and whinny but such noises don’t seem to assault our mental state as much as mechanical sounds.
Could we go out into space to find quiet? Science tells us that the universe is not silent either! It makes its own unique sounds.
Should I try to isolate myself in my search for quiet and tranquility? Being alone may not bring the kind of peace I am looking for either—solitary confinement, after all, is a punishment in our prison system. Pure silence even makes some people uncomfortable. The minute they come into their homes or cars they switch on the radio or TV and even jog with a Walkman or iPod. Children today are conditioned to do their homework with loud, raucous background music and seem unable to concentrate when it is quiet.
In the unlikely absence of all extraneous noise, we can still hear our own heartbeats and the vibrations in our eardrums. Those afflicted with the stress of tinnitus or constant ringing in the ears find that complete quiet is never possible. Nor can any of us escape from voices in our heads that are constantly carrying on muffled conversations.
As a last resort, can't I go to bed and sleep soundly to achieve silence? Ah, but I'm told that our ears never completely switch off sounds even while we sleep; the brain still registers noise! I hear things while sleeping that in the normal course of daily life are drowned out. If a spouse snores, we lie awake and our nighttime blood pressure spikes!
The question is, can I still have peace even if I don't have quiet?
(Part two tomorrow: "Mini-slices of Silence"
Excerpt from Leona's forthcoming book, Chapter:
"Summit Meetings with God")