Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A World Full of Noise

"A Quiet Moment"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I had a conversation yesterday with an online friend who told me that he couldn’t wait to get back to work again. He had taken a few days off for the holidays and said he has been so busy that he just can’t catch a breath.

I find it rather odd that people often talk about how busy and chaotic life is when they take a vacation – I thought time off was supposed to be a time to rest and reboot. And yet many people talk about needing a vacation from their busy vacation. Maybe we have forgotten how to stop and pause, or worse yet, maybe we have come to wear the busyness of our lives as a badge of honor.

When I go out to eat or stop to get coffee at the local Starbucks I often notice that everyone (literally everyone) is pecking away at an iPhone or a laptop- surfing the web, answering emails, sending texts- busy, busy busy. I sometimes wonder if all that activity is a way of demonstrating self- importance:  I am so much in demand that even when I take a coffee break or stop to have lunch I need to be constantly involved with my many emails and texts.

The problem is, of course, that we need pauses and rests in life, not only for our physical well-being but to give our life texture and deeper meaning.

In his book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers this observation:

In music there are moments of ‘rest,’ of no sound.
If those spaces weren’t there, it would be a mess.
Music without moments of silence would be chaotic and oppressive.
That space between notes is very, very powerful, very meaningful.
The soundless can be more pleasant, more eloquent than any sound.

I find deep truth in this simple observation - it makes a good deal of sense to me, not because Master Hanh is such an astute music critic but because he is such a wise teacher of spiritual wisdom.

Like any piece of music, the song of our lives needs to include deliberate rests and pauses to give it meaning - we need to catch a breath from time to time. A time away should in fact be treated as a time away –a pause from the chaos of an everyday busy life. Even the routine of an ordinary day needs to have times of pauses and rests - a dedicated time of quiet meditation, closing your eyes, clearing your head and taking a breath for a moment or two in the middle of an ordinary busy schedule, putting away the laptop at Starbucks and taking the time to enjoy sipping the coffee, or maybe just finding a nice quite corner where you can sit and stare for a bit.

The famed Jazz composer, Miles Davis, once said of his music:

The space I leave is just as important as the sound I make

The spaces we leave in life are as important as the sounds we make.

I think there are probably a lot of people who, like my online friend, find that their lives are so busy that they just can’t catch a breath. As a New Year is about to begin maybe all of us should be much more intentional about inserting soundlessness into the music of our lives.

Socrates once wisely said:

Beware the bareness of a busy life


  1. So true. And it can feel odd at first to sit and do nothing, but it is the spaces between the notes that create the harmony. Jon Kabat-Zinn calls just sitting a 'radical act of non-doing' because it does feel radical in todays busy busy world. Thanks Paul xx

    1. wow-great! Isn't it odd that doing nothing is radical? cool.