Friday, August 03, 2012
Silence and Human Consciousness
One thing that has almost been lost in the modern world is silence. And with it, a large part of human consciousness. I have four children, and almost all of the time when we are together, they are all talking at once. It requires total focus to listen to four streams of thought simultaneously, especially while driving. I have been known to become hysterical, just begging them to please… stop… talking. If a downstairs neighbor falls asleep in front of the TV and leaves it on until morning, you will probably find me cranky tomorrow! As I write this, there has been some kind of verbal showdown between drunk drivers outside my window involving prolonged horn honking. With all that is going on around us, it is hard to complete a sentence even in our own minds. It is comforting that in this day and age there are places like mosques and temples and even prayer rooms in airports, where one could recharge, clear out and refresh the intellect.
Noise pollution affects all of our lives. Obviously, we need and want social interaction but we also need some time of the day when nobody is asking us about anything. Our mental files need to be sorted alphabetically so that we can recall them at future notice. We need our thoughts, so we can learn from our experiences. We need a time of silence to plan our dreams. Some people have said my home sounds like a grave, but truly I sometimes need a music-free environment to dig deeper, and to be reborn with a fresh point of view.
A lot of radio stations or TV stations seem like they are actually screaming at us to notice them and their advertisements! The constant stream of pseudo-information can become unpleasant within the kitchen situation when family members are trying to help each other and talk at the same time. Sometimes I even wish I could just unplug the refrigerator to escape that infernal humming and groaning. When I go to sleep I have to put on a loud fan to tune out the neighbors.
The Islamic warnings against music are not new to the 21st century, but the effect of canned music, such as from radio or Cd’s, is worth discussing primarily because of the commercialization of art. An average person could be exposed to someone else’s poetry literally 24 hours a day. Studies have shown that people who listen to popular country music radio have noticeably higher suicide rates. When you invite somebody’ else’s song into your house, you invite their heartache, their life story. This can have a profound effect on the personality.
Most Americans are addicted to constant external noise in their homes, broadcast from the satellites. They are completely terrified of being left alone with themselves. Because the second we turn off the TV and there is no one there but the bushes outside our window, we are left alone with God. We are left alone with our own thoughts, which we sometimes cannot even tolerate. The burden of withstanding our own company is so painful that we would fill it with radio commercials to take up the time, but until when? Until it’s time for dinner, until it’s time for the children to go to bed, until the morning when some talk show host will be telling you what to think about at breakfast? Tuning into public broadcast gives us a sense of passing the time, participating in public opinion, and perhaps for some, even doing our public duty to be “informed.”
At this particular moment in writing this article, I became overwhelmed by the silence in my own vicinity and elected to take a walk instead of filling the silence with noise. It was a beautiful night. The walk gave me time to replay scenes from earlier today and wonder what they meant. My cells filled with oxygen as I walked under the trees. The clouds glowed mysteriously in front of the moon. Even though the clouds and moon are always there, noticing their beauty can invigorate an entire evening.
When I was in fifth grade, I got elected to sing in the Ann Arbor All-City Choir, and the song we sang was “the Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. My parents being immigrants, I had never heard it though my classmates were already familiar with the music. It must have spoken to me though because I went on amazon last month and bought a $3 used cassette tape of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits to listen to in the car. According to the song, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence.” Without question, the words of the prophets (pbut) were derived in moments of silence.
It is only in moments of silence that we can distinguish truth from falsehood, good ideas from bad ideas. We need to slow down once in a while and tune out so we can tune into our own thoughts and needs and ideas. Really, sometimes we don’t even know what we ourselves are about to do unless we sit down and discuss it with ourselves. Even if the plan is to just sit here for a while and not think.
Looking at the water flow always helps erase the past, but the best way to experience time is to just be. Just be yourself now, because “God don’t make no junk.” Ask yourself why you are here, how you got here, and where you are going. People who don’t do this just react to every event like some amoeba going after food or avoiding pain. We must take a few minutes a day to reflect, in order to stay human.