When I was a boy living in the mountains of Northern California, I used to venture into the woods behind our house. There was a favorite tree I often climbed.
At the top, the limbs splayed about perfectly into a kind of chair. I would sit there, nestled in the canopy of leaves, as the wind gently rocked the tree back and forth.
I used to close my eyes in silence and listen to the soft sounds of the woods. The quiet song of birds, the breeze rustling through my hair. I was alone with my thoughts, and a kind of peace would wash over me.
Other days, I used to lie down on our living room carpet with my sketchpad and pencils. In the quiet of my imagination, I drew all kinds of things. Warriors, strange creatures and fantasy landscapes. I was completely relaxed and absorbed in my creativity.
Fast forward forty years or so, and everything nowadays seems to be punctuated by noise. Quiet reflection and peaceful moments have been drowned out by blaring screens, screaming car stereos, chattering YouTube videos and people with their phones on speaker as they stand in the grocery store check out line.
Writer Devin Foley, in an article for the website Intellectual Takeout, wrote:
“Honestly, everything we do needs a soundtrack.”
He went on to note:
“I think we have trained ourselves, through a constant barrage of noise, to ignore the nagging, quiet inner voice. In silence we find ourselves stripped of everything but the fact of our being.”
What are we trying to escape from with all this noise today? Why must we reach for our smartphones every time we wait in line? Are we afraid of our thoughts? Are we drowning out a deeper part of ourselves?
Today’s new addiction is noise, and many of us are suffering from it. We require constant entertainment, at the expense of quiet reflection and the serenity of silence.
Devin Foley went on to quote Flannery O’Connor, the great 20th-century writer:
“Perhaps the feeling I keep asking for, is something again selfish — something to help me feel that everything with me is all right.”
“We aren’t meant for this noisy existence. In silence we are forced to confront that which is not right with ourselves, while in noise we escape. The noise does not make things right, we simply move from one noise to another while never learning how to be, to have a sense that ‘with me all is right.”
I think Devin Foley is on to something. I’m not sure all this noise is good for us. The arrival of 5G promises a rich, immersive augmented and virtual reality. Really?
I think I prefer that old tree in the woods, swaying in the breeze as the birds softly sang and deer quietly passed below. In the serenity of nature, I seem to think more deeply and feel a kind of peace that all of today’s digital noise will never be able to compete with.
If you’re suffering from this new addiction to digital noise, try stepping away from it. Get out in nature. Practice meditation. Reacquaint yourself with quiet downtime. You might be surprised by the deeper thoughts you’ll have, and the unexpected solutions to problems.
Reintroduce yourself to silence, and you just might discover that “with me all is right.”
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint landscapes and write about life. Thanks for reading.
Previously published on “The Startup”, a Medium publication.
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Illustration by John P. Weiss