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.