Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Monday, January 25, 2010

Can YOU Hear Yourself Think? (#214)

When I was a kid - the eldest of six - the words “Be quiet!” were often followed by, “I can’t hear myself think!”

Things were too loud. There were too many distractions. The person (not unsurprisingly, usually a parent) needed some peace and quiet in order to gather themselves, to clarify their thoughts.

What do you see people doing now, on and off our town’s and city’s streets?

I’ll tell you.

You see them walking while listening to their iPods. You see them driving with their radios cranked up to deafening levels. You see them wearing a headset and mashing buttons on a controller while riveted to a computer or tv screen. You see them shopping - loudly - with a cell phone stapled to their ear. You see them laughing at Seinfeld reruns while waiting for the prime time shows and then you see them fall asleep to Letterman before waking up with Regis.

I think a lot of people today are uncomfortable with, indeed are afraid of, silence. They don’t like stopping the input of sensory data. To be alone with themselves.

To hear themselves think.

“But Frank,” I hear you holler (because your earbuds are in and you’re talking louder than necessary) “I use my iPod as a focusing tool - to drown out other distractions!”

So we, clever beings that we are, bombard ourselves with chosen noise to drown out the other noise around us.

But it’s still noise. And it’s still preventing us from hearing ourselves think.

We in the developed nations are super-stimulated. We’re the ADD generation, constantly immersing ourselves in neuron-pinging media. We’re not sleeping well and we’re overweight. Our mental health is suffering, so we fix it with sleeping pills and Prozac, or self-medicate with booze and/or other, less legal substances.

I believe a goodly portion of what ails us can be traced to not hearing ourselves think. Like an overstimulated 2-year-old, we need quiet time. Regularly.

In my book I talked about how we’re becoming alienated from nature, how concrete and steel are shielding us from fields, trees, water and animals.

You don’t have to look far for evidence that we are also alienating ourselves from each other: Young people shoot other young people for ridiculous reasons. Fender-benders lead to mayhem. Conscienceless predators bilk the elderly out of life savings. Politicians serve their donors, not their voters.

So, let’s recap: We’re alienated from nature. We’re alienated from each other. And most of us only have a nodding acquaintance with ourselves.

All those ills are related. Tending the latter can be the first step in mending them all. Do yourself a favour. Whether it’s 15 minutes in a quiet part of the house, a peaceful lunch in a park or a hike in the woods, make time for some silence - regularly.

Give yourself the same respect you allot to those folks on the other end of your phone, or radio or tv screen: listen to yourself. You may be surprised at what you learn.


Jenna said...

Very well said. I'm a fan of quiet... I don't use a cell phone unless absolutely necessary, I rarely watch TV... right now I hear the sound of the rain and the clicking of the keyboard as I type.

Now when I go to houses where the TV is on, the videogames are going, etc., I just feel like... "Noise! Make the noise stop! How can you people talk to each other with all this noise?"

Funny, I wasn't always like this-- I used to have TV on in the background all the time so I wouldn't feel alone in my old house. I don't mind the quiet anymore.

Then again, maybe I'm just getting to be an old fart.

Anonymous said...

I've long thought about the irony of the fact that the "Be Here Now" Zen sensibility of the 60s and 70s has been replaced by the "Don't Be Here Now" culture of reality avoidance through technology. The magnificent silence of a forest (which is in fact full of subtle sounds) is beyond golden. But then there was my mother, whose favorite exclamation was "Turn the radio down, I smell something!".

mogie222 said...

You wrote a book? ;-)

I love quiet.

Sandy Stow said...

Oh Frank, Once again you have hit the nail on the head. Peace & quiet are so refreshing and relaxing for our bodies & our minds. Curl up with a book, sit on the beach and watch & listen to the sea; take a walk in the bush (forest for non aussies) In other words take the time for YOU! Relax, Refresh & renew!!

Reb said...

I grew up in a house where the radio was turned on in the morning for news, then off. On at noon for news, then off for the rest of the day unless something dire happened. A friend of mine turns hers on in the morning and unless they are watching TV it doesn't get shut off until bed - drives me nuts even though the volume is very low. I have an MP3 player that I take once in awhile on the bus, but I find I forget it as often as not.

Into The Maze said...

I totally agree with you. We are afraid of silence. Personally, I love just being in the nature with my thoughts, it helps keep my head on straight. Btw, I really like your blog.

Hilary said...

You make sense for the most part.. you usually do. Not always.. but usually.

Now shhh.

Barbara Martin said...

I love quiet, and enjoy it every day to think on projects or to meditate.

Your post will encourage others to have their quiet times to help them keep their sanity in this maddening world.

Slick2097 said...

I've always loved peace and quiet.

I agree that in order to block out people you do need to replace one set of noise with another. I know that certain pieces of music can evoke such feelings of calm and serenity in me that I can get my 5 minutes of quiet even in the most noisy and crowded places.

I also appreciate what being out in the wild outdoors does for a man as well, the quiet, the dark (being a city boy i'm always amazed by the amount of stars you can see at night), the fresh air.

So I can see both sides of your post, I think there is room for both in our modern, hectic lives.

As Jenna mentioned, I guess i'm becoming an old fart. :)

poetinahat said...

Excellent post, Frank. As it happens, today I sat in the quiet for the first time in months - and, for the first time in months, wrote the first sentence I thought was worth reading.

It dovetails nicely with this A.A. Milne quote I dropped in Author Scoop a while back: http://authorscoop.com/2008/07/15/tuesday-quote-of-the-night-13/

Very, very glad to be in your company here again, Frank. Happy Australia Day, mate.

Dianne said...

so very true
I have a renewed respect for silence since my grandaughter was born
when we sit together she will often just sit back and look at me, I look at her
I imagine we are wondering what the other is thinking
as well as wondering what we are thinking ;)

I wonder how people feel they can fully be with others if they can't spend any time with themselves

you're a smart fellow my friend :)

Chicago Mary said...

Why, Frank, just last night, around 10:30, I said to my husband, "Sometimes the silence can be deafening." Then I asked him if he knew what I meant. His reply--"No."
I laughed heartily for at least five minutes.

As a fan of silence, I seek it. Naturally, the best time to find it, is late evening, as I lie in bed waiting for sleep to overcome me. Such was the case last night.

Keep the columns coming, Frank! Love them!

Frank Baron said...

~Jenna, I'm not great at math but - if you're getting to be an old fart - I gotta be well on my way to geezerhood. Thanks for the visit. :)

~Ha! Love that line from Mom, Cay. And you're darn right about the silence of the forest.

~Yes, I did Mogie, dear. YOU must be approaching old fartette-hood if you've forgotten. ;)

~Sandy, you could be a guru! Thanks for taking the time. :)

~Hiya Reb. Of course, I love music and listen often. I'm sure not opposed to whiling away a bus ride listening to tunes. But I think having the radio on all day would make me nuts too. :)

~Thanks Elsa. Nature is indeed a perfect milieu for observing silence.

~What was that, Hil? Sorry, had my headphones on. :)

~Barbara, I was pretty certain there were like-minded folks out there. Glad you're among them. :)

~Dagnab it Slick! I happen to know that you and Jenna are about the same age. In fact, you might be a year or two younger! I REFUSE to consider myself a geezer by comparison to you two puppies!

And btw, belated condolences to your bride. ;)

~Thanks, Rob. Darn nice to see you around again too. And Happy Oddsie Day back atcha' mate! :)

~Dianne, you're too kind. Oh horsehockey! You're just kind enough. ;)

~Mary, it's those stony silences you gotta watch out for. Thanks, as always, for your generous comments.

Skunkfeathers said...

Though I live on the western outskirts of a 2 million-plus peopled city, I have a place less than a mile away that can expunge, for the most part, their sound.

I used to do my Green Mountain hiking circuit (6 miles round trip) with head phones and my Walkman (no ipods h'yar); but some days, it was nice to climb the hill without it. Past a certain point in the climb, the sound of traffic was lost in the bends and folds of the mountain (actually, a several miles long foothill, but I digress). Summer mornings were best (mainly 'cuz afternoon storms with lightning aren't so clement).

I grew up on a farm. I can take silence. At times, I crave it. Even if I can hear myself think.

tattytiara said...

Yes. I used to drown out the world, but then I tried silence and adored it. I'm still passionately in love with music, but now when I listen to music it gets all of my attention, like any lover should!

Unspoken said...

Silence was just what I found, recently, was missing in my life. Great line of thought here.

Thumbelina said...

I couldn't agree more Frank. What an insightful post - as always!

This is why I always loved fishing. I know. I know. I've always told you I didn't like fishing or didn't understand it. I don't. But I will accompany anyone who is a serious fisherman. He is quiet.
I take a comfy camper chair. Maybe a book. Sit back. And enjoy. the. peace. and. quiet.

Aaaaaaaaaaah. Can you hear it?
(Hear what?)

I have just made myself a study out of the spare bedroom now oldest has flown the nest. It has no phone point. No cable point. No intrusions. And it. is. quiet.


Charlie said...

Wunnerful post, Frank. Especially when I read it on the day Apple is about to announce their latest "you didn't know you couldn't live without it until now!" miracle of modern technology that is bound to keep everyone 'stimulated' for years to come.

Also interesting that I was just talking to a coworker about how cool it was to be a kid and just lie in a field for what seemed like hours listening to the grass swish in the breeze and watch the clouds go by....

Anonymous said...

Yes, I enjoy quiet time also, especially since after my divorce (I was married to someone who thought he had to have the TV or radio going all the time). My new s/o (significant other) and I can sit and talk for hours without the TV, radio, computer, cellphones, etc. It's wonderful.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks for your say, Skunky. And your last sentence provoked a grin. :)

Sounds about right to me tattytiaria. Thanks for the visit. :)

Thanks She. Hope you enjoy yours. :)

Thumbelina, you're exactly the type of non-angler I don't mind sharing my boat with. One that appreciates the value of quiet. Good for you for making yourself a nest within your nest. :)

Right you are, Charlie. I remember those days. The sky went on forever and so did summer days, seemingly. Thanks for the visit, friend.

So glad you're happy Poppy. :)

The Merry said...

Oh, thank you for this post. You reminded me of another book I must read (in addition to yours, I mean). I picked up a copy of Max Picard's book on silence, and I haven't yet gotten around to reading it.

"The seasons move in silence through the changing year. Spring does not come from winter; it comes from the silence from which winter came." - Max Picard

Frank Baron said...

Nice line, Merry. Thanks. Sounds interesting. :)

nita said...

Great post Frank. I'm just the opposite of Jenna, I used to not want noise on. Now, the silence shouts too loud during the afternoon & evening hours, must have something to drown it out. However, sometimes in the morning I can stand the silence and don't turn the noise on. Walks are always manufactured noise free (unless the stupid gas/oil wells counts). Drives are a combination of silence, visiting with a rider, or talking on the phone during what I deem "safe" areas.

Ava said...

Yes, there is great value in the sounds of silence. Love your posts as always.

And by the way, my blog is updated. :)

Bernita said...

I hear you and agree.
But like Nita, I know that sometimes silence shouts.

Frank Baron said...

Nita, I understand wanting to break the quiet of loneliness. (By the way, I was thinking of you yesterday morning before I got up. When I did - poof! Here you were! :)

Hiya Ava. Thanks. I'll check it out. :)

Bernita, I think your shouted silence comes from the same place as Nita's. Thanks for the visit. Take care. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your words of wisdom. There are so much to distract us today. Silence is golden, I agree. Have a great weekend! :)
The Bach

Grayquill said...

Your piece took me back to a memory of my high school chum Neal. Instead fo going to college right out of high school, he bought a sail boat and sailed around the world with long treks alone. I remember reading his book, The Log of The Mahina (SP?), talking about those lonely quiet times,they were profound times. difficult times, no thank you times but yet I envied them. I have never had anything close to a quiet alone time like that. I like your idea way better.
Nice piece - how have I missed your blog? Hmmm...

The Unbreakable Child said...

This is a timely post, Frank. I dislike loud, unless I need to energize to do my laundry queen duties.

I think in general, we've become an angrier society. Inpersonal.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Bach, I appreciate it. :)

Grayquill, I certainly admire folks like your intrepid friend. That kind of trek takes a lot of brass. Thanks for the visit and kind words.

I hear ya' Kim. :)

LadyFi said...

Amen.. as the parent of two small children, moments of silence out in nature are like gold!

Dave said...

You show a great wisdom here Frank, if I may say so as a new visitor to your blog? Totally agree. They even play loud music behind TV shows so that we can't hear what the characters are saying. Do you notice that? - Dave

Frank Baron said...

I hear ya, Lady Fi. ;)

Thanks Dave. And yes, that's one of the annoyances I've noticed on tv now and then.

Thanks for the visits, folks. :)

Leah J. Utas said...

I need quiet. I must have it. This constant noise/distraction we find ourselves in hurts.
BTW, Cuba is filled with music and often at mealtimes you can't hear yourself think over the live band tucked behind your ear. I'd rather listen to nature.

Frank Baron said...

Me too, Leah. Unless, of course, it's evening on the beach and I've got a couple of rums in my belly. Then, bring on the music!! ;)