Did you know there are dark-sky preserves? These are areas that are kept from artificial light pollution, where stargazers can go to view the night sky.
As much as wetlands need protection from encroaching development, and the panda needs intervention to fight extinction, so does a dark sky need saving from bright lights and big city. Imagine your children going one day to view a real live Bengal tiger at the zoo and spending the next night at a dark-sky preserve to see actual stars.
I wonder if the same will ever happen in the protection of silence? True quiet is so hard to come by, isn’t it? I live in a very small town, right at the blending of town and farmland. While it is much quieter than, say, Mexico City, or New Delhi, it isn’t exactly silent.
As I sit writing this in the window of my living room, I hear the washing machine churning in the kitchen. Across the open field beyond the trees I heard school children being children on their lunch recess. My neighbour’s voice carries to me as he discusses prices at the flower stall he runs from his driveway. Vehicles frequently zip by, interspersed with the rumbling chugs of a tractor and wagon. The noise of distant traffic rolls in like waves. A train whistles enthusiastically, several dogs bark from different directions in the distance, air cannon are constantly firing in the vineyards, somewhere out back a farmer is tending the grass in his orchard, and birds punctuate the whole tapestry of sound – and if you think they are the least noticeable of the lot, you are very mistaken!
It is all fairly pleasant – it is evidence of life around me. And yet, noise it is. It is occasionally jarring and calls my mind away from where it was, whether deep or drifting.
Close your eyes for a moment and pay attention to what you hear. Does it soothe you, or unsettle you?
There are many studies into the effects of noise on humans. It contributes to psychiatric disorders, cognitive deficits, and places stress on the heart and nervous system. Even chronic low-level noise (such as traffic) impacts our ability to learn, increases fatigue, lack of concentration, bad moods, high blood pressure, ulcers, damage to immune system, cardiovascular deaths. And, this is important: women are more sensitive to noise stress.
We need, as Charles Morgan said, “the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still.”
We need external quiet in order to attain interior silence. We need internal silence in order to hear God, be connected with ourselves, and so connect with others.
It is difficult in our day, to experience periods of silence. In fact we often go out of our way to prevent it with music, tv, phones, mobile devices, etc. Anyone who has experienced Poustinia or gone on a silent retreat knows how difficult those first hours – or even days – are without distractions to save us from ourselves.
This isn’t meant to be a bitter diatribe against the evils of modern life – it is what it is. However, we must acknowledge the need for at least small periods of quiet in our daily life. We need it in order to foster interior silence, to be recollected. We need it in order to be able to receive all that is offered at Mass; to have an interior life; to be whole, rather than fractured.
How to find this important silence in a busy and noisy life? Perhaps by declaring a Quiet Preserve in your home. Delay turning on those devices tv, computers, radios. Drive in silence rather than playing music or even listening to a teaching cd. Sit on the back step after the kids are in bed and breathe. Be attentive to the sources of noise and stimulation around you and be open to ways of weeding them out.