Lots of people talk about how they’d just like a bit of peace and quiet, but what do they really mean? And why is it so important? When I crave quiet, I’m thinking of the absence of human-generated noise. It’s critical to forming and developing new ideas (as in a previous blog post), but quiet is so often hard to find.
I would happily live without loudly revved car engines and associated thumping boomboxes, or drunken students stumbling on the walkway behind my house at 1 in the morning. I’d rather not hear diesel buses rumbling by, their low frequency vibrations shaking my house windows. The neighbour’s dogs are always barking – one shrill and squeaky, the other low and constant. The guy down the street drives his motorbike around and around the block – not sure if he’s finally learning to drive it or just likes the sound it makes. Inside the house, the fridge compressor sounds like a small jet readying for takeoff when it first starts up, and the wind across the top of the chimney makes it seem as though you’re inside a very large bottle that someone is blowing on.
While others may notice little of this noise, I find it a form of pollution that makes it difficult to concentrate. My thoughts are more scattered, as the deep pool from which they’re drawn is disturbed by surface ripples and floating debris. I feel irritable, my internal silence intruded upon by these external disturbances.
The cure for this illness? Getting outside and far away. To the mountains, to the lake, or on the banks of a chuckling river. While none of these places are completely silent, it’s more like ‘ambient sound’ than ‘noise’. Most recently I’ve stayed in a cabin next to a steep mountain stream that rushed and roared, and drowned out my voice when I stood too close. But it was welcome noise, jubilant and carefree, a soothing constant to fall asleep to at night and hear upon waking in the morning. As that deep internal pool stilled, my mind began to generate new ideas – exactly what you need on a sabbatical!
Others see peace and quiet as being away from the kids, or having a break from their students. Whatever it is, it’s important to cultivate regularly. It’s where your best ideas will come from, and will keep you going through those less-quiet times.