The rest of the mind

The attic of Robert Frost's farm was cool, dark and soothingly quiet. Derry, New Hampshire, September 2012

The attic of Robert Frost’s farm was cool, dark and soothingly quiet.
Derry, New Hampshire, September 2012

“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”William Penn

I can’t remember anyone ever describing me as a quiet person, but even so, I am continually amazed at how noisy the world is becoming.  Jeff and I can hardly stand to go to restaurants at the busiest times of the day, because the music and din of many conversations get so loud.  At the movie theater, it feels as if the sound is up at too high a volume.  Most radio stations seem to be one jangly commercial after another, sending us to public radio for relief, and I completely avoid watching television.

At a time in history when most of us are overwhelmed by too much stimulation and too many things to think about, I would expect everyone to seek and crave quiet places.  Yet everywhere we go, it only gets louder.  Now even the computer occasionally stages surprise attacks, with noisy pop-up ads at full volume, even when the pop-up blocker is on.

Recently when Matt was in the hospital, I went out to the garage to get some things from the car while Jeff was in the room with Matt.  On impulse, I just sat in the car for a few minutes with the doors and windows closed, enjoying the quiet and privacy I had been missing for more than a week.  It was quite therapeutic, a balm after the stress of the hospital setting.

I’ve known people who say that too much quiet is just as disturbing to them as too much noise, but I’m not one of those people.  I love to be home with total calm, where I can hear the sounds of birds, rain or the mail truck even when the windows are closed.  Oddly, I have a bad habit of talking too loudly myself (especially when I’m excited or angry), but I think silence is golden.

How about you?  Do you like to take breaks from noise, or even from pleasant sounds such as music, to have a few minutes (or hours) of total quiet?  Next time you are feeling stressed out or fed up, try to find a place where you can escape to silence and rest your mind.

One year ago today:

The incubator of the spirit

34 Comments

  1. I have been doing it for years Julia. I usually awake between 3:00am and 4:00am and have been for many years. I make a cup of tea and just sit and enjoy the stillness, and that cup of tea is the best one of the day.

    • Patricia, on those rare days when I awaken quite early and get up by 5 a.m. or so, I do relish that early morning time. Usually my whole day goes better if I start it that way. I almost always say “I’m going to start doing this every day” but alas! I’m afraid I’m wired for sleeping late (and staying up late). I do like the stillness of early morning because I like the increasing daylight as my mind comes gradually awake. Almost as if the day is waking up with me!

  2. Sheila

    Julia, I associate quiet with calm, too, and love it. Recently, I even thought the sound of my aquarium air bubbles was louder than usual. My “selective hearing” can be as simple as early morning bird calls, footsteps of walkers or runners going by, kids giggling as they greet the day, or Bill’s voice offering me a cup of java after my walk. Oh, and now I can hear Jack lapping some water from his bowl! Life is good! Thank you Lord for my gift of hearing! 🙂

    • Jack! That must be your new family member’s name – in an earlier comment I asked you about him. What does Walter think of him…and what does he think of Walter! I join you in saying “Thank you Lord” for hearing. I love all the sounds you described (except I don’t ever hear Bill offering me any java) 😀 I wish I could be more selective with my hearing, though, because I’d like to be able to focus more when there is noise.

  3. Ann

    Julia, I completely agree with you about the incessant noise – everywhere! My husband and I used to eat out a lot but finding a restaurant that is quiet enough to allow us to carry on a conversation is almost impossible. But as Raynard would say, I digress.

    The quote and photo as well as your commentary are wonderful. A little peace and quiet are priceless.

    Ann

    • Thanks Ann, I’m glad you like the post. Jeff and I have adopted a few strategies to get around the restaurant problem. We usually eat early – as early as 3 or 4 some days, assuming the restaurant we’re going to is even open at that time – and there’s no waiting or noise at that hour in most places. Plus we always ask the host or hostess to seat us in their most quiet location. And we avoid places with loud music. That eliminates a lot of places we might enjoy, but dining out should be a relaxing experience and I just reached the point where it wasn’t enjoyable if the noise was too intense. I hope you have a lovely and QUIET Sunday tomorrow!

  4. raynard

    Julia, when I get up at 4 or 5 am I listen to the birds outside, it’s peaceful for me.(Especially before my neighbors get up and go to work. Funny you talk about noise. People dont like Delaware cause”it’s too quiet least where I live. ( And I’m from NYC LOL) When I do go back home, it’s a culture for me so”I started singing that song”My mind is going through some changes ” lol Peace of mind if you dont have it,”you will lose your mind”.. be blessed

    • Raynard, I didn’t realize Delaware was quiet, but thinking about where it is located, it makes sense. We’ve only driven through a couple of times but it seems like a very nice place. I imagine NYC is quite a culture shock in comparison. I do wonder how people can stay sane with incessant noise. One thing to say for texting – at least it is silent! Hope you have a lovely Sunday tomorrow.

  5. Eight years ago, I moved from a city of 250,000 inhabitants to one of 17,000. At times it would take 40 minutes to get across town through endless traffic and the noise that comes with it. Now I live in a more rural area where the traffic is so sparse that you can almost make a turn onto the main thouroughfare without looking-although I don’t advocate that.

    The only things that I miss from my former dwelling are my family members and friends, and the memories shared with them. I have a nephew that will come to visit at a moments notice, because he loves the quiet and peace.

    It’s so appropriate that the northeast section of Ct. where I live is called: “The Quiet Corner.”

    -Alan

    • Alan, “the quiet corner” sounds wonderful. When Jeff got transferred to DC, we kept our York County home partly because we didn’t expect to be in DC as long as it now seems that we will, but also because I didn’t want to give up the quiet location. I love living in the DC area but I don’t know whether I would have enjoyed living there without the frequent breaks we take in York County. Jeff and I grew accustomed to having to leave friends every time we moved, and for us too, that was always what we missed most. But after 10 years of owning our York home, we found out that even when we don’t move, many of our friends do, so things don’t stay the same anyway. Connecticut is one of only a very few states I have never visited. I’ll have to explore “the quiet corner” if we ever get to travel there, which I hope we do.

      • Julie,
        The website for The Last Green Valley(The Quiet Corner) is http://www.tlgv.org
        Hope you get a chance to explore the site and enjoy.
        -Alan

        • Alan, thanks for that link! I enjoyed looking at the site and watching the video. It’s beautiful there! Definitely makes me want to visit the area. It would be a fairly easy drive from Boston. Jeff and I have taken several trips to the northeastern states in recent years because the flights between DC and BOS are often so inexpensive, and there are so many lovely places within an easy drive. But I had never heard of The Last Green Valley. Thanks again for sharing that link.

  6. tpeastin

    Hello Julia,

    Well, my one year self-imposed ban on commenting is over…and this is a perfect post to begin my comments! I agree with you that the world has gotten noisier. After a 30 year career in public service, the last twenty-three years as an elementary school teacher, I retired last May. When people learned I was going to retire, the first question they usually asked me was, “What are you going to DO now that you are retired?” When I replied, “Nothing…nothing,” they would get befuddled and not know what to say. I had spent the last 30 years of my life working…and life was frenetic to say the least…and I was tired of always being ‘on’ without accomplishing much.

    I remembered that when we first moved into our house in 1982 that our elderly neighbor across the street would sit on his front porch steps most of day. In the course of conversations with him, I found out that he had worked hard all of his life, and that he had told himself that when he retired that he was going to sit down and do nothing. Perhaps I kept that in the corner of my mind when I retired, but I vowed that, at the very least, I was going to take a ‘year of rest’. I resisted all kinds of “volunteer” opportunities and things to fill my time with ‘busyness.’

    So what do I do? I usually spend the first part of the day in devotion…reading the paper version of Our Daily Bread, the online version of The Upper Room…and of course your blog, Defeat Despair. In November, I began reading the ‘bible through in a year’…I use an online app that keeps me on track and I’ve just passed the 50% mark! Also, I write a page in my journal about my previous day (I find that I forget if I wait more than a day). My husband and I sometimes sit at the kitchen table and talk…and like you, I enjoy walking.

    How do I feel after a year? GREAT!!! This slowing down of my life has renewed me. I actually feel as if I’m living more now than when I was in the out-of-control rat race that teaching had become those last few years of my career.

    I don’t know how often I’ll post…it does take me a while to compose my thoughts. Until next time…

    Love, Pat

    • Hi Pat, it’s wonderful to hear from you! I’m glad your self-imposed ban is over! I think you are wise to enjoy retirement as you have described. Not all of us are wired to stay active, and our culture seems to link busyness with importance or validation or something. But as my friend Gloria reminds me when I get in a tizzy about not getting enough done, “We are human beings, not human doings.” 😀 I love that. I am honored that you include reading my blog as part of your day. And I applaud your plan to read the Bible in a year. I have done that a few times over the years and it’s amazing how much my perspective on faith changed when I read the entire Bible. There’s a kind of wholeness that comes through where I can see the essential message much more clearly than when I just read bits and pieces, or hear what someone else tells me it says. One thing I appreciate is the time you have taken to write me personal, handwritten notes (not to mention the lovely things you’ve sent) so I for one don’t think you are doing “nothing” – I love what you are doing! 😀 Thanks for having the guts to resist the pressure to be a “human doing.”

  7. I like to listen to my audiobooks as I drive to work every morning. But at the end of the day after having been with the kids in the classroom all day long listening to their constant buzz of noise the only thing I want to listen to on the drive home is silence. That blessed 20 minutes on the way home not listening to anything is so necessary for my sanity. 🙂

    • I’ve heard others say the same thing about their drive home from work – in fact, Jeff feels the same way, though I think he often listens to classical music on public radio on the way home. But I know he sees it as a chance to “decompress” from all the auditory demands at work. I would guess that teaching, more than almost any other career, would create a tremendous psychological need for silence, rest, and time alone. When I worked as a high school librarian there were times when I would go sit in my car to eat lunch, just for the silence. Going off to myself and sitting in a corner of the teacher’s break room always felt antisocial, especially since I liked all of them and enjoyed seeing them. But I just needed some time by myself – schools can be such NOISY places!

      • You hit the nail on the head. Some days it’s exhausting trying to teach 25 little 7 year olds. I go home and collapse. And there was a definite lack of socialization this year as I just needed time alone. There’s no noise quite like that buzz all day long the kids make. It’s like a beehive. It never stops and it only gets louder as the day goes on and they wake up more. This is why I started a quiet time with the lights off (except for two little lamps I have in the classroom) and the sound of the ocean right when they get back from recess and lunch to help them calm down and redirect. Lol! 😉

        • I think your “quiet time” practice is a great idea for school kids, and should be mandatory. I’m serious! I think a great many kids get overstimulated by all that noise. It used to make me crazy to hear the din in school cafeterias — it’s hard to believe just how LOUD it gets, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it lately — and for a sensitive or quiet child, it can be overwhelming. Plus, as you say, I think the noise level tends to be self-escalating and even the kids get worn out. Probably only the bus drivers can totally understand what teachers go through when it comes to noise! 😀 No kidding, keep up the good work with the quiet times. I’m sure it’s good for the kids.

  8. Jack

    My wife’s sweet father passed away on Monday of this week. We’ve had not a minute of quiet contemplation, quite the opposite in fact…house full of sincere well wishers and fellow comforters. I escaped to the farm this morning for a few hours to tend to things, a nice but temporary lull from this business of grieving. I used to think myself an extrovert, now I know otherwise.

    • Jack, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I suppose the intense activity following a death is therapeutic, but also demanding. People laugh when I tell them I wonder if I’m an introvert, but I do think I must have become more of one living with Jeff (who started out as an introvert and has become more of one as he has gotten older). He’s still way ahead of me in that sense, but I wonder if getting older creates a certain amount of longing to withdraw; perhaps it’s a natural part of the life journey. I’m praying that your wife and family will be comforted by happy memories and loving support.

  9. I live in silence for extended periods of time. When I have no clients, I often work in my studio in silence, and can go three or four days at a time in relative silence [speaking only to the cat or greeting someone in passing] quite happily. Then I find I come to the end of silence and will chat away to myself out loud, put some music on and return to the world. My quiet times are healing, strengthening and renewing. I have always needed them, but it is only as I have gotten older that I have learned to cultivate them successfully.

    • Pauline, I didn’t realize it at first, but since I quit working I live most of my life in silence also (less so since Matt has been home during the days, though). Normally, during the day Matt and Jeff are gone, and then even when they come home, they are both fairly taciturn, especially in the evenings. So I’d say on what would have been a “normal” day for me in the past, I might spend perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of it talking. A friend of ours who was visiting us was worried because she thought we were being so quiet all the time for fear of disturbing her. I told her “we are always this quiet” and she found it very surprising. But I really don’t wish it to be otherwise. I love visiting with friends but I also love the quiet serenity at home, where I feel so cozy and happy.

  10. When raising my kids I had music in the background in addition to all the noise they made. Since they’ve moved out I rarely play music anymore. The tv is silent most of the day. I love solitude and silence. Perhaps my spirit is catching up after all these years!

    • Yes, I think you are right! I do think we have a lot of “catching up” to do in various ways when our children are grown. It’s as if most, if not all, of our own needs have been on the back burner for so many years that we have to re-learn how to live, and part of that involves enjoying the solitude that was almost nonexistent for so long. I’m happy you are getting the chance for some peace and quiet.

  11. Hello, Julia. I thought I was the only one who enjoys quiet. My kitchen radio is set on NPR(National Public Radio). I watch Jeopardy on TV and PBS(Public Broadcasting Station) comedies. I spend lot of time in my sunroom…my husband wears hearing aides and likes the sports channel loud…but we can see each other from while he watches TV and reads. I agree restaurants, theaters…wal-mart are too noisy. 🙂

    • Merry, I have a sneaky suspicion that even many of the people who think they like the noise might find they like the quiet better, if they ever got the chance to experience it. In any case, there are more of us lovers of quiet out here than these restaurants might guess! Jeff is very good about keeping the sports noise down since he knows it drives me crazy. We started using the closed captioning years ago when our kids were young (in library school I read a professional who felt it helped kids with reading skills and that makes sense to me) so now that we are both old enough to NEED closed captioning, we are used to it and it comes in very handy. We also found that using a “white noise” machine does help us sleep more soundly; apparently there are all sorts of typical noises, in and outside, that can wake us up without our being aware of it.

  12. In nature I always prefer places with just the natural sounds which are never disturbing.
    But there are other places, say, school and home. Sometimes I have to go to school on off days. The school would look so quiet, different and even scary. I do enjoy that silence for that day but not for long. A school and a home will be so dull and gloomy without the children to make them lively. Though I may scold them for the noise when they are away I realize their noise was better than its absence.

    • Bindu, that’s true that there is something a bit somber about a deserted school, even when it’s just during the off hours. The signs of the children are everywhere so the silence is incongruous, as if life just stopped suddenly. When Jeff and I take Matt to summer camp for a few days, when we come back to the house it seems so empty without him. It takes us a day or two to get accustomed to him being gone – we keep reminding ourselves that he is having lots of fun (he has always loved camp) and eventually we are able to relax and enjoy being together, but as you say, the absence of people we are accustomed to having with us is a difficult adjustment, even when we know it is temporary.

  13. Michael

    I think Gandhi said something about most of the world’s problems stemming from an, “inability to sit silently in one’s own space.” I would have to add myself to that list.
    That is a nice comment on -” a human doing.”

  14. Carolyn Miller

    Enjoyed reading this blog,quiet time , is something we all need. Terry will remind me that we don’t have to talk all the time to each other.Hugs and love to all.

    • Carolyn, we need to get together so Jeff and Terry can sit there and be quiet together while we chat in another room (preferably the porch with a pitcher of iced tea)! 😀 Seriously, we do ALL need the quiet, even those of us who don’t practice it as often as we should. Thinking of you with love and gratitude!

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