“When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss.” So said poet and novelist Boris Pasternak. I surely don’t want to miss my ‘great moment’ and have it slip by unnoticed, do you? But if it knocks so quietly, how can we be sure to hear it? And what sort of noise is preventing us from hearing? Is it the radio, the washing machine at full spin, the growling, honking traffic, the piped supermarket music? Do you ever say to yourself – “I can’t hear myself think!” – because of the combination of construction workers drilling outside, a car alarm going off next door, and the children shouting and stomping upstairs. It’s a noise filled world, and if we let it get the better of us, even the wind, the sound of the crashing sea, or flocks of singing birds can grate on our nerves. On the other hand, even if we somehow manage to block out all external noise, we can still be left with our own dancing monkey mind, an inner voice that is silent but not noiseless with its loop of incessant chatter raging inside our head – and the off switch seems impossible to find. So maybe that is what Pasternak is getting at. Maybe we need inner quietude to hear the great moments call.
Have you noticed how many people these days are wearing noise-cancelling headphones? I saw quite a few recently on a flight. T. tells me that some of her colleagues wear them at the open plan office in her work. But surely there must be easier and less anti-social ways of reaching a place of quiet without putting the equivalent of a ‘do not disturb’ sign over one’s ears? Is it possible to be amongst noise, chatter and hubbub but to be able to zone it out? I wonder if our inner noisiness isn’t as a result of our outer busyness. I wonder about the effect of living in a culture where it is acceptable (even expected and encouraged) to appear constantly rushed off one’s feet. I know that work places are increasingly delivering on targets with reduced budgets, asking staff to achieve ‘more with less’, and this must feed the cycle of being hurried, harried and hassled. Everywhere I turn, people attempt to multi-task to hold back the deluge of work. We humans are wired to do one thing at a time, but somehow we get swallowed into the notion that we ought to be doing many things at once. Multi-tasking is lauded as a ‘good thing’, it’s accepted, unquestioned, as a necessary function of the accelerating pace of modern life and as long as we are duped into thinking we can (and should) multi-task then the noisy mind will never quieten.
Yesterday afternoon I looked around me in the lobby of the hotel where I am staying. The rain was falling (again) and everyone had come inside. Books, kindles, magazines and decks of cards were all at hand. Bobby Darin’s ‘Over The Sea’ was gently playing, helping those already drifting off to fall into a deeper sleep. Looking up from her book, T. took it all in, nodded to me and smiled, “I think we’ve joined God’s waiting room!” We both laughed, but we were enjoying ourselves all the same. The atmosphere, which at other times in my life might have filled me with stupefying boredom, was one of stillness, quietude and peace. I would like to be able to tell you that in this peace and stillness there was a great moment or that an important message came to me; but it didn’t, other than a reminder that it’s good to be still and relax. Maybe that is a big enough revelation in itself, one that we re-learn time and again.
It shan’t hold though – this peace and quiet and nodding off over a book in the afternoon. There is always a change of rhythm and pace, but I’ve enjoyed the feeling of my mind emptying for a few days. Icelandic singer, Björk, had a fantastic breakthrough hit called, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, and that’s how I feel, for the time being. Because if you listen to the song’s lyrics, the quiet doesn’t last for long! “It’s oh so quiet, Shh shh, It’s oh so still, Shh shh, You’re all alone, Shh shh, And so peaceful until….”