This life is full of contradictions.
The one that I am thinking of today has to do with noise and what that means to us. Because it is never quiet here: the river rushes steadily below us, the cicadas sing in the rainforest, the rain cascades unrelentingly through the leaves. The birds are calling, and every shift in the sky or weather is greeted enthusiastically by my over-zealous rooster. All this, plus a 4 year old with a personality many sizes too large for him who doesn’t stop talking even in his sleep.
And yet, despite the constant noise that surrounds me, I appreciate the quiet of this life.
That I live somewhere where the sound of a car driving on the road causes everyone to look and see who it is. The fact that, while I have much to do every day, almost none of it has a timeline. Things take as long as they do, so just roll with it. And in the rainy season (like it is now) if you happen to have a particularly beautiful and sunny stretch of afternoon (like we did yesterday), it is perfectly acceptable to strip to the bare necessities and lay in the sun for awhile.
I understand that it is possible to get used to the noise in a busy city, that eventually it all turns into ‘white noise’. But I find myself wondering if there is a cost. I’ve read a few articles on the subject recently, and while there seems to be some discrepancy about how big a problem noise pollution is psychologically (as in, does noise pollution cause anxiety and mental health issues, or are people with mental health issues more affected by and likely to complain about noise?) there seems to be evidence that it does raise blood pressure, heart rate and arousal systems, meaning increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. But to level with you for a moment, research on the effects of noise pollution isn’t what got me looking at this in the first place.
What got me interested was a blog post that was circulating through some of my friends exclaiming that silence is good for the brain (https://zapier.com/blog/silence-health-productivity/). There is a study performed on mice and quoted in the article that found that “listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.” If a drug that caused new neuron formation in the hippocampus had just been discovered, that would be really big news. It seems amazing to me that this has been achieved with literally nothing, simply the absence of the constant buzz of interruptions that make up our day.
I read this and thought about it – short of an experience inside a sensory-deprivation float tank (which, as you who know me can probably imagine, I just found irritating) – I cannot think of the last time I would have experienced silence. Even when I was trapped alone here for a few days without any people, internet, power or vehicles around, nature looms loud in this landscape and the noise is constant. How does one find silence, other than to put on noise cancelling headphones all the time?
If you try to look this up, what you find are a lot of suggestions for how to ‘connect to the silence’. As in, meditate, train your mind to be less noisy and cluttered and notice the silence and stillness around you so you don’t get caught up in the need to be busy all the time. While my life here is noisy in a ‘Nature is a force to be reckoned with and don’t you forget it’ kind of way, it is so quiet in so many other ways and I can feel how good it is for me. I’m not sure if this counts in the scientific sense, but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got!
Come visit; we’ll walk the beach and not say a word.