The silence that I was always compelled to fill up has become beautiful to me, as well. I’ve become accustomed to being quiet with my own thoughts, and now–especially when I do chores such as washing the dishes–I can be centered and meditative in a way I never could be when I was either listening to talk radio or had voices from it still echoing in my head. This calm and centered way of being in my daily life fits better with the slower pace toward which my family is striving. ~Mary Ann Leiser
Laurie’s recent post, “Oh Sing, Sisters!” reminded me of an essay about the blessings of silence called “The Media-Free Family.” It comes from a book I picked up on a whim several years ago called The Plain Reader. It’s a compilation of essays from the (sadly) defunct magazine called Plain. I pull the book off my shelf and re-read it every so often. “The Media-Free Family” is one of my favorite essays in the book. It’s one of those reads that helps me reset my perspectives.
In it, the author explains why she and her husband decided to get rid of their radio after living for a long time with a tv. She felt the noises, opinions, and just the sound of the voices coming through the airwaves were invasive and often went against the goals for their family. This book was compiled in 1998, so cell phone use and the internet wasn’t necessarily assumed or even mentioned. (How much more ubiquitous are those influences these days?) In the essay, she talks about the effects of a radio-free life and her family’s renewed interest in singing for their own enjoyment.
Human voice fills our house and is richer than any electronically generated sound can be….For over a year now we’ve lived without voices in our home save those of the real, live people who live here or those of visiting friends.
That idea is startling to me. Can you imagine that? A present person attached to every single voice in your home? I can’t. (Does the author never talk on the phone, either?) But it’s only been in this last sliver of history that we’ve been able to listen to voices of people we’ll never meet or maybe would have never intentionally invited into our homes to influence us.
Early Days of Being a Housewife
I got married 14 years ago, not exactly the dark ages. The internet was very much a thing but we decided it wasn’t essential on our budget. We walked to the library several times a week to check email, etc. Later, we signed up for dial-up internet, which was on its way out but very affordable. We were content with that for years.
I remember spending full days in the kitchen at the height of the canning season. I’d occasionally find a recording of an old radio show on our office desktop computer, then crank up the volume as high as possible so I could hear it in the kitchen. But I only did that every once in a while; it as a rare treat.
Anyway, all that to say that we’ve never considered ourselves media fiends around here. We only switched our cell phones to smartphones about 3 years ago!
My Experiment in Silence
This idea of silence–specifically the lack of “electronically-generated” sound–isn’t one that I often consider. In this era, I can be intentional about what I listen to. I’m not at the whim of a few radio or tv stations. Still, what if I silenced them all to do my own thinking and living?
I experimented recently when I was home alone for several days this summer. While I didn’t have any specific parameters, I just decided to spend a few hours without any gadgets playing. I’ve never considered myself addicted to media. However, several times I caught myself unconsciously reaching to turn on a podcast, background music, any kind of noise to work by. It made me realize that we nearly always have sound of some kind in our home.
My Observations of Silent Times
I can tell myself that I’m listening to worthwhile, educational, uplifting content and that I’m making efficient use of my time by multi-tasking. On one level, it’s absolutely true, but it almost becomes a trap to justify it to myself all day long.
Then there’s the unintentional nature of media. You know how it is–I just meant to look up a video tutorial for homemade sauerkraut. The next thing I know, I’m watching a video that popped up–something ridiculous like The 10 Best Moments of Green Acres. It caught my eye and sucked me in, mostly because I wasn’t even aware that someone could identify 10 best moments.
When I listen to outside sounds, someone else is leading my thought patterns. I’m not implying that sinister forces are deliberately leading me astray but maybe the constant flood of information and entertainment is simply too much.
So what are the benefits of my week of frequent intentional silence? Well, for one, the idea for this post came together in my mind. But beyond that–
- less distraction means more concentration. When my mind isn’t wandering, my focus on the task at hand is better.
- my focus turns to details of my own world, such as remembering the upcoming birthday (that I usually forget!) of an older relative.
- in a constant barrage of media, I tend to consume more than I create. I haven’t lost my creativity over time like I’ve often thought; I just give myself fewer opportunities to be creative.
- after I go without listening to anything for a period of time, I tend to be more deliberate and purposeful about what I do choose to listen to or watch.
It’s not my intention to get rid of all my technology because I do believe it has provided tremendous benefit to me. (Hello blogs!) But any good thing can be taken to the extreme. I think noise has become the default for me… and maybe for most of us.
However, I’ve been so pleased with the mental energy and creativity that silence has given me these last few months that I’ve been incorporating blocks of intentional silence into my life every day.
I’m a weirdo, I guess! I’m a silence junkie! I never turn the TV on during the day. I very rarely turn on the radio. And, what startles people is that I drive in complete silence. I’ve done all these for years, probably since leaving the noise of Los Angeles. I love the sound of the birds, the wind, and the chattering squirrels. The one downfall is that I can dwell on past mistakes, etc. It’s not often, but it does happen.
I notice that even the dog is more mellow in the quiet.
I have quite a lot of thoughts on this. For years, as a homemaker living in the country, my home was void of sound. I wasn’t one to turn on the tv and just let it run. Nor the radio. In fact, I sought silence as much as possible and deeply appreciated that I was able to literally hear myself think, carry on a phone conversation without distractions, etc. On the other hand, as a homemaker in a day and time when women were career oriented and I was, in their words, “Just at home” I was lonely. Businesswomen had no time for conversation, visits, etc. The area where we live is not prone to social gatherings and I was over the years of volunteer work I’d put in. We attended church (and still do) 30 miles away so we weren’t even part of that ‘community’.
I found a world of homemakers online and appreciated the connectedness they brought to me. Many of those women I met years upon years ago online are still a present part of my life.
But over the past few years I’ve had my husband retire. He is addicted to the noise of television. It is on in our home from the time he rises until the time we got to bed at night. I miss the quiet solitude I once took for granted as part of my day, much as I love having him home.
As well, with the advent of vlogs and then with Instagram and TikTok and ‘shorts’ the attention span required is very minimal. Reading a blog post is NOT the same as taking time to read a book. I gave up magazine subscriptions 10 or more years ago because articles had dwindled to a page or less. The down grading of attention spans is something that truly does make me wonder just what we are allowing to happen, you know? So, I limit blog reading to once a week. I watch only a few vlogs a day, perhaps an hour’s worth of views and I’m done. I’m picking up books and reading them daily once again because I don’t want to lose the ability to train my attention on something for long periods.
Long winded I know, and I apologize, but your post this week provoked a LOT of thought on my part!
We also subscribed to Plain magazine and were very sorry when they quit publishing. A lot of people have no idea what silence is.
I didn’t learn about the magazine until after they stopped publishing. I haven’t been able to find any back issues. Given the book, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it!