Finding Life-Balance through Silence

So what do we really mean when we say we would like to find some balance in our lives?

It is, of course, different for everyone.  The hard-working 70-hour-per-week executive could use more family time or some time with nature. The person stuck in multiple dead-end jobs, trying to make ends meet, could use a wage increase, sick leave, vacation time, and personal and parental time off – to get back to a calming mind.

The person angry with his or her partner or spouse could use some time alone.

The tortured artist needs a little peace.

The insomniac just needs a good night’s sleep to balance out his energy.

The elusive “life balance” – where is it located? How can anyone discover it?

Start with silence. If you have the right mindset, the relaxing effects of being cocooned in silence can place you within a frame of contemplation that, if practiced regularly and you don’t over think, can, I believe, propel your energy toward a more balanced life away from all the noise.

And noise is more than just annoying sound waves, like that lawnmower, airplane, snow blower, inconsiderate neighbor, etc.  Noise is the world broadcasted on your TV set, over your Internet connection, and in your smartphone.  Noise is the paradox of the enormous amount of consumer choices that confront us every day. Noise is information overload and distraction after distraction that takes you away from you, yourself, your soul, your psyche, your guardian angel, your inner voice, your daimon.

We need a Global Silence Society where people can confront all the noise surrounding them through the promotion of new perspectives, and the enactment of new laws and regulations that bring more silence into our noisy world. This kind of organization, named the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, was actually created back in 1906, by a woman who became known as the “Queen of Silence,” Julia Barnett Rice. George Prochnik, author of an outstanding book about silence, “In Pursuit of Silence,” describes, in detail, how Rice grew into her noble accomplishment.

Turns out Rice, an MD, and her husband Isaac, a successful inventor, (parents of six children) owned a mansion near the Hudson River in Manhattan, and they were increasingly bothered by the sound of tooting tugboats that too frequently woke their house up in the middle of the night. So, they did something about it, ultimately bringing a case to D.C., where she represented New York City hospitals whose patients, all of whom deserve and need a good night’s sleep more than anyone, were affected by tugboats tooting away for no good reason other than to say hello to other passing tugboats. That case ultimately resulted in laws that halted “all useless and indiscriminate tooting of sirens and steam whistles.” Disobeyers were fined, and tugboat noise was abated.

There’s more. As noted by Prochnik, Rice’s society “went on to win other victories. Rice became an inspirational figure for anti-noise movements across Europe, as well as the United States.” Unfortunately, however, the society fell silent in the 1920s as Rice, in old age, grew less involved. Additionally, she and her family lost their credibility when Isaac reportedly became the first person in NYC to own an automobile, and their daughter became known as the first person to drive a motorcycle through the city – both of which, of course, became new sources of noise. Since then, the notions of a Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, while good in theory, have not held any sway for almost 100 years, unless someone comes along to perhaps revive it?

So, the question becomes how do we find silence in today’s noisy world?

Prochnik, who works in Manhattan, offers the following spots that don’t cost anything to visit, in his excellent book (synthesized here in brief):

  • Pocket parks
  • Beneath old bridges
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Historical societies
  • Cemeteries
  • Churches

What’s your favorite spot for silence?

For me, it comes every morning, before the city awakes, before sunrise, when I can sit in silence, eyes shut for a minute or two (being a short-time meditator), looking at the slowing moving colors beneath my eyelids and feeling at peace with my existence and at the center of my life-balance.

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