Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Sound of Silence

It's struck me on a few occasions lately how little used I am to not having anything to do.

Earlier this today I arrived in a conference room three minutes after the start time for the meeting I was rushing to, and found myself alone. Knowing who else was supposed to attend, I was pretty sure that they would show up eventually, but I had nothing in hand but my cup of coffee -- my laptop and notebook having been left behind at my desk since I didn't think I would need them at the meeting. It was oddly disconcerting to sit there with nothing to do, to read, to listen to for five minutes until people showed up.

I think this effect must especially kick in when one is in a man made environment -- a white walled corporate conference room being a prime example. My car radio died a while back, and since my normal commute (when I use my car -- which due to laziness and tight scheduling is unfortunately most of the time) is under ten minutes, I haven't bothered to get it replaced. But when I have to drive in to Austin or otherwise drive more than ten minutes, I run into exactly the same sort of phenomenon -- with an urge to either call someone or put in one earbud from my iPod or otherwise do something to relieve the silence.

It's not exactly silence that I find difficult. I'd be perfectly happy in a silent conference room with a book to read or an internet connection so I could browse or write. But after a time one becomes used to always having some sort of mental or sensory input. Reading or listening to music or writing or talking or experiencing all the little sights and sounds of the natural outdoors -- all of these provide grist for the mental mill. But that unnatural silence of a blank white room -- or even the instinctual sights, sounds and reflexes of long distance driving -- leave someone used to the constant interaction of the modern world feeling curiously restless.


bgeorge77 said...

That happened to me once. I made a game, I closed my eyes and tried to listen for all the creaks and whines of the building.

Was it Pascal who said something like "All the problems of the world stem from man's inability to sit quietly in his room."

Anonymous said...

I do a lot of work alone in a research lab (and I also bike by myself a lot) that often involves waiting (for tests to finish running, things to filter, etc). Sometimes I put on music, but I do not have an mp3 player.

So what do I do? Sometimes I read or catch up on emails. I think. A LOT. I sing music in my head. I try to use this time for contemplation and prayer and for practicing patience. And sometimes I walk in's not always a deep experience.

The silence and relative lack of distractions is novel experience in our world and can be frustrating to deal with. But this time with myself has also taught me a lot.

Unknown said...

I use those amazing stray moments to pray. I close my eyes and lift up small prayers in the silence. They have become grace filled moments among the cacaphony of the rest of my day.