As humans living in a noisy world crowded with other humans, we tend to complain about the constant barrage of sounds that drown out our thoughts. A few of us even complain about the noisy thoughts that drown out the din of the outside. However, noise is as much of our life as the sunlight or the air we breathe. We start off life surrounded by the deafening beating of our mother’s heartbeat, the rush of blood through her veins, the soft melodic sound of her voice and the slow inhale and exhale of air moving through her lungs. These sounds comfort us and from a very early age we associate noise to safety and wellbeing.
Later, as we grow up and our minds become full of broken-record snippets of favorite (or despised) songs, half-formed memories, conversations we should have or are planning to have, shopping lists of dreams, goals and groceries, memories either real or imagined, and an infinite number of other loud thoughts, the noise becomes unbearable. This is when most people start to complain about the loud parties next door, the conversations on the Max line, the bumping bass coming from the car in the next lane or the barking dog. But the real problem may not be the external backdrop of sound, but the unrelenting noise from within.
I will be the first to admit that my problem with noise is not about the external. My mind is often overloaded with a very loud symphony of thoughts that drown out whatever is going on around me. It’s having a new idea, or thoughts about what to eat for dinner, or checking in to see whether I’m tired or my stomach is growling. It’s being kept up at night or awoken in the wee hours by an idea for a story – a talking cat making an argument for scratching on the furniture or a conversation about a ghost. My mind is barraged by hundreds of ideas, so loud that they drown out the very real sounds going on around me. How many times have I been focused – not on a person speaking to me – but on some errant idea that flew through my head like a swallow, swooping and dipping; yet staying just out of the reach? I turn my attention to trying to grasp and hold onto this fleeting thing, this brilliant spark that just as quickly burns out and leaves my mind forever. And even as I falter and bring my attention back to the present, back to the person addressing me with a question, I realize that I’ve lost something else as well – that connection with the person who is speaking to me. “What?” I ask, forcing them to repeat themselves so I can re-establish that connection. “There’s a lot of noise in here and I didn’t quite catch your question.” But the truth is that I simply just wasn’t paying attention to them, and without that focus, they might have well been in the next county talking to a brick wall.
But one cannot speak of noise without giving a reverential nod of the head to silence. While we start at the sound of a gunshot, tremble at the sound of approaching danger or otherwise fear certain sounds that conjure frightening images of one type or another, nothing compares to the true terror invoked by silence. How many times have we suddenly become aware of a complete absence of sound and felt the hair prickling on the back of our neck and the chilly sensation of goose bumps forming up and down our arms? Even the words we use to describe the absence of sound are scary. Footsteps become ‘deadened’ and a room is ‘as quiet as a tomb’ when the sound is taken away. Silence is unnatural and terrifying.
Many would argue with me, stating that they would enjoy silence and consider it peaceful if only they could experience a few moments of this wonderful thing. They believe that silence will quiet their minds and drive away the stress that an overly noisy and busy life brings about. They feel that a moment of true silence would bring peace and serenity into their lives.
Oh, but they are so wrong.
Silence – true silence when the world seems to have stopped and you hear nothing except the blood pumping through your veins – is a signal of life-threatening danger. Animals understand this well – when everything goes deathly quiet and even the insects stop buzzing, it means a predator is near. We also feel this deep in our subconscious – anyone walking in a forest will feel uneasiness bordering on sheer terror if the normal expected sounds suddenly stop. Why else is it a recurring theme in scary movies? Silence is danger; silence is deadly. Silence is when the movie soundtrack stops right before the psychopath jumps out of the closet.
And what of uninterrupted silence inside your mind? What of those who wish their minds to be completely void of all noisy thoughts and want to experience silence in its purest form? Never fear, dear soul tormented by noise – for we all experience silence sooner or later. It’s called Death.