Living the mindful life 4

‘Sound, noise and quietness’

Feedback on previous blogs (for which many thanks):

  1. Make it shorter. (Will do!)
  2. What do you actually do on your weekly quiet morning?

So, I’ll leave reflecting on shaping a mindful year to another time and pause to reflect on the weekly quiet morning I keep with my wife at home.

But, first a thought:

Silence is not the absence of noise – but the space in which noise is transformed into sound.

The difference between noise and sound is a concept both in physics (signal to noise ratios) and in music. There is a sense in both that unless there is quietness around the sounds we are trying to engage with we will never truly perceive them. We will only ever hear cacophony – a huge jumble of undifferentiated sounds. There has to be a space, a silence, an absence for us to start perceiving more clearly what is here – what is important – the signal.

So keeping a quiet morning is not just about taking a break from sound – a ‘time out’ from sound and noise but about sensing a wider space around all the sounds which are here in order to perceive more acutely what is present.

This is especially helpful when we come to our own thoughts. As it happens we are never going to be able to ‘take a break’ from these as they will always be there. And, in fact, when we create space through silence they can seem to become louder and more insistent. So, again, the point would be not to try to shut these out but rather to allow a bigger space for them – allow some silence around them so that we can begin to discern the ‘sound’ from the ‘noise’.

This can happen to some degree through meditation. But often in Mindfulness meditation there is a sense of practising mental skills. What we are talking about here will only begin to become apparent when we move on to what we call ‘choice-less awareness’ – simply allowing space for whatever is present in experience to be here without judging it – or running away from it.

But creating spaces in our week for longer periods of quietness can develop this idea of attuning to sound rather than just being a bit blasted by constant noise.

So, for us, the rules are very simple. From wake up until lunch: no talking (and if possible no communication), no working, no music and no ‘devices’. We will each do our own thing through the morning which will be a mixture of meditating, sitting quietly, reading (though being careful not to overdo this), walking. Sometimes I will make bread but one of the most significant experiences is the feeling that nothing is actually required of me – no chores, no tasks, no work, no communication. Just for this one morning, there really is nothing to do. Wow! That feels good.

There are still the noises of the city around us and, of course, the noise of our own minds. But the key is that by dropping quite a few of the normal stimuli we are, in fact, creating just a bit more space for the sounds which remain to find their place.

We have both noticed that our experience of these mornings is sometimes pleasant and sometimes a little bit unsettling. When it is unsettling we try not to worry about this too much but to accept that this is just sometimes the result of having created space for thoughts and feelings without distraction: sometimes there is anxiety around, sometimes there are unresolvable issues present, and sometimes there are fears. Better that these things get a bit of space to breathe than go unnoticed and contribute to the unacknowledged noise and cacophony which is around the rest of the time. And sometimes, through sitting with these less than easy things there are insights. We hear the signal amidst the otherwise relentless noise.

And the results? Well, as I say, immediate ‘results’ can vary – from a quiet peacefulness to a hard-to-pin-down sense of unease. Though one thing I find myself saying these days is that it is the most precious time of my week now – just the mere fact that I know there is built in ‘space’ which is protected and sacred. Over time my feeling is that our quiet morning is contributing enormously to the building up of mindful awareness the rest of the week.

And my sense is that we all need such space however much we manage and however we create it. But we will have to be quite strong and determined to make sure of it. The world around us is much more interested in bombarding us with more and more information in an attempt to get us to buy their wares or subscribe to their opinions. A quiet morning, half morning or single hour once a week where we turn down the noise and are simply present in the quiet will be a wonderful antidote.

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