Maybe we’re all grinches by nature, not in our grouchiness, but in our discomfort with too much noise. Every December when I read Seuss’ book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I empathize with these lines about the Grinch:
“ Oh the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!”
For most of us, every day of the year is as noisy as Who Town’s Christmas. The majority of us now live in cities or suburbs where we constantly hear engines revving, people shouting into their phones, sirens wailing and electronics beeping. The decibel count for normal conversation is 60dB whereas trucks, power drills and rock concerts emit between 85 – 115dB, not to mention a baby’s loudest cries that can reach 120dB! Even during night’s relative quiet we may hear a rushing sound from the nearest highway and the hum of household appliances.
Too much noise causes our body’s stress-reactor, cortisol, to flow at such excess that, for example, a friend had a breakdown at work the other day, yelling at a customer to “Shut that child up!” Her system simply couldn’t cope with trying to help people at a public information booth while her ears were being battered by a nearby child’s screaming.
One of the benefits of my youth as a fundamentalist Christian was being urged to have a daily “Quiet Time”. In that context a “Quiet Time” meant reading the bible and praying, and unfortunately many of us felt burdened by the expectation, feeling guilty when we skipped the daily practice. The benefit, however, was the wise teaching that each day should include a time out from our daily responsibilities and addictive distractions (Twitter, TV, music). We need a chance to sit alone to collect our wits and think about life. Although it's impossible to escape all external sound, we can learn to quiet down our thoughts and emotions.
Despite post-modern Western culture’s widespread rejection of traditional Christian prayer, spiritual hunger has prompted a rediscovery of this ancient idea, via New Age beliefs and Buddhist tourism. Many have learned the value of silent meditation and prayer. In Toronto there are new public labyrinths in parks and hospitals where any passerby can take the opportunity to follow the circling path in silence. Some schools have introduced regular quiet moments for students to calm themselves, and most health practitioners now recommend non-medical techniques for stilling our minds and slowing our heartbeats.
As with other life experiences, until you try a quiet time yourself it is hard to imagine the treasures that may manifest. I promise that if you close your mouth and sit or pace silently for long enough, you will be pleasantly surprised, perhaps by a memory of a friend you had forgotten, or a new activity to explore, or a sudden feeling of compassion for an annoying neighbour. If we include a willingness to connect with God, this too has happened for thousands during their solitary silences.
Maybe if we all start informing our bosses, clergy, and politicians that quiet times are beneficial, even productive, our whole world would edge closer to healing. I will if you will.
“Be still and know that I am God...In quietness and trust is your strength”
(Psalm 46 & Isaiah 3)