“You ask me what is, at the present time, the great obstacle to human progress. I answer you in one word: NOISE.”
Aleister Crowley - Magick without Tears, Chapter XIV
At night there were no wailing sirens, shouting matches, blasting horns or bustling commotion. In fact it was pitch silent. And because of that my friend had insomnia for nearly month. How could this be? My friend had just moved from downtown New York to a small town in the rural American south. He had grown so accustomed to the noise that he couldn’t sleep without it.
However noise comes in other forms than unwanted sounds. TV, Celebrity Gossip, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Dating, Sports, Video Games, Blogging, Cyberspace, Gadgets, Sex, Violence, Terrorism, Spam, Entertainment all can be forms of noise.
So what is noise? Noise as defined by dictionary.com is “extraneous, irrelevant, or meaningless facts, information, statistics, etc“. This makes noise quite prevelent in today’s information age. This article will discuss the appeal of noise, how does it affect us and what can we do to have less noise in our lives.
What is the appeal of noise?
Noise offers us escapism; it placates us. Most programs radio and television become pacifiers for us and do not challenge our intellect. It readily satifies an itch that we need to scratch but often goes no further.
We plugin our minds to the great information socket and tune out. Nevermind that most of the feedback we receive is irrevelent. How many commericials do you really need in your life anyway?
How noise affects us.
Cardiovascular stress, weakened vision, confusion, impaired judgement and generally rudeness are all symptions of of what has been referred to as “information fatigue syndrome“. However there are more subtle but equally serious conquences for too much noise intake.
“Answer rich but question poor” is how Baroness Susan Greenfield describes our relationship with the information age. We get bombarded with information and facts, but we spend little time evaluting and questioning what is important. All too often we passively digest information and do not seperate the wheat from the chaffe. These distractions keep us from evaluting our life and can impede our spiritual growth.
Below is an excerpt from the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis - it tells how an elder demon distracts human from questioning an insight he has recieved. Although CS Lewis writes from a Christian perspective (Screwtape is a master demon referring to God as the “the Enemy”) it aptly shows how noise can distract us from important matters in life:
…you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist… One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way…. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said ‘Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,’ the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added ‘Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,’ he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of ‘real life’ (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all ‘that sort of thing’ just couldn’t be true…
Here the subject starting to think important thoughts about his life - but were soon drowned out by the noises of everyday life. His important thoughts are soon forgotten.\
I find this a an accurate description of what usually happens when we begin to uncover important truths in our lives. If we are not careful to evaluate these thoughts as they arrive, distractions can cloud their importance and eventually we forget that we ever had those thoughts.
How can we deal with noise?
Below are some personal steps I’ve taken to reduce noise intake from my life. Perhaps they can help you as well:
- Reduce passive information intake: What do I mean by this? This means control any media that you can not actively interact with. This is primary television and radio, and to a much lesser degree, the internet. Although you have the power of the remote control, how often do switch off we there is nothing good being presented? You have no control over the output. Also, all to often we take in what is being said as truth. We don’t question it. We passively involved in our information intake with these mediums and unfortunately most of this is noise.
- Spend less time with ‘noisy’ people: and conversely, spend more time with people who have a more meaningful outlook on life. Lets face it, on the surface noisy people seem alot more fun: they have the latest gossip, have the best jokes and are alot more entertaining. Thats not to say ‘unnoisy’ people do not have these qualities - but they are usually not out try to seek your attention. Find like minded people
- Be Still! By being still, I mean making your mind still. Its always ‘Different strokes for different folks’. Some people can sit still and mediate immediately. Other people have to exercise vigorously before their mind calms. Other have to be in a natural environment. Find your own method of calming your mind. For me its a combination of the above.
Back to my friend from New York. He now loves his quiet place in the country, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere. He has visited friends and family back in the big city. However he doesn’t stay there too long these days. Its just too noisy for him.