Maureen Dowd has an excellent column in today’s New York Times about silence…or the lack thereof in people’s lives. With all of the gadgets demanding our attention, she posits that we have lost the ability to be still, to appreciate what is around us,to pay attention.
I have thought about this often. Walking the streets of New York, you see most people connected to some device: listening to music, tapping out messages, or talking on a cell phone. Growing up, I remember people glaring at someone blasting a boombox (what a ridiculous device that seems!), but it was a fairly rare occasion. Now almost everyone thinks nothing of having a loud phone conversation on the bus.
The city bombards us with sound. Cars, buses, trucks, horns, sirens from police, fire engines or ambulances, people yelling, subways rattling. Yet even in the cacophony, I have almost always been able to quiet my mind. Perhaps growing up in Manhattan forces one to learn how to tune out the noise.
More importantly, this ability was—and is—an essential part of the learning and creative process. When I sit with no distractions, my mind travels across my day, sorting, analyzing and making sense of it. I think of what I could have done better, what I am pleased about. Problems get turned around in the silence, and I look at them from different perspectives, often finding solutions. My work involves thinking creatively, and so it is invaluable to allow my mind the freedom to roam, trying out, discarding or reworking ideas.
Listening to music on my ipod, watching television, talking, reading…these are all things I love and spend a great deal of time doing. Yet many activities are more relaxing because they offer few distractions. Gardening is one where I can lose myself in the plants, the soil, and my thoughts. Our house has plenty of distractions, but it is wonderfully quiet, especially in winter with the windows closed. It is easy to sit for a while and be still. Or to look out the window, watching chickens run by. These moments are among the most productive of my day.