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The sound of silence (09/26/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Thomas Keating once said, “God’s first language is silence. Everything else is translation.” A very clever remark!

The imposition of sound:

I didn’t realize how loud it’s become lately! Let me tell you! Laid back in my recliner, wrapped in midnight quietude, I slept soundly, until I was awakened by the sound of it abruptly shutting down. Consciously listening through the darkness, I noted that the audible tick, tick, tick of the kitchen clock probably runs for days not being heard. Pat’s deep breathing faded in and out like a familiar tune tiptoeing through my head. A light wind skipped between leaves of our lanky ash tree, seen but not heard in its fluttering, black silhouette against a white wall.

Just as renewed sleep embraced me, like a slow dance in the moonlight, it kicked in again, the imposition of its brash sound ruffling my feathers. That refrigerator runs as if it’s heaved its last breath. Background racket is often noted when it vibrantly quits. We live with it, unaware that sound may be imposing unrest and difficulty concentrating onto our brains.

Sound research:

Would you believe that research shows that in noisy areas people are much less likely to help each other? That noise detaches us – not only from our surroundings but also from each other? That traffic is the number one source of noise pollution in the world? That in Canada the noise of gas lines has reduced the pairing success rate of ovenbirds by 30%?

Are you aware that a jet plane, thirty-six thousand feet in the sky, is destroying more than a thousand square miles of silence below it? That research with children who have attention-deficit disorder shows that experiencing quiet in nature is as effective for them as medication? That the average daytime noise-free interval in our wilderness and national parks has shrunk to less than five minutes?

“Gordon Hampton believes there may be fewer than a dozen places left in the U.S. where you can sit for 20 minutes during the day without hearing a plane fly over or some other noise from human activity,” Leslee Goodman reports, in the September SUN interview with Acoustic ecologist Gordan Hampton, entitled “Quiet, Please.” Hampton has traveled the globe for more than 25 years recording the vanishing sounds of nature.

The above facts, labeled “sound research” are from the SUN article, and shared by Gordon Hampton.

Turn it off and listen!:

When asked to identify the quietest place they know of, it will probably throw some for a loop. The fact is, there are many who thrive on “their kind of noise,” and feel the need to be surrounded by it much of the time, or think they do. The first place quietude begins is within one’s self. Those are the ones who seek it, allow downtime to indulge in it, and aren’t inhibited to spend alone time, quality moments with personal thoughts.

Mother Teresa had this to say, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence.” She, above all, should know.

Silence speaks for itself:

Many of you over the age of fifty might remember the late Marcel Marceau, the internationally acclaimed French mime, famous for his persona as Bip the Clown. His smooth moves, body language, and contorted expressions told every sort of story and mastered the portrayal of any mood and emotion, without uttering one sound. I recall sobbing and laughing hysterically as our family watched his performances on our little RCA television.

Marcel Marceau is quoted in the Sun’s Sunbeams section: “Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?” Amen.

Silence is golden. Tune it in.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com 


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