Thursday, August 18, 2016

Turning Down The Volume

The world can be a loud place sometimes. We all know that, and we all respond to that in different ways. Some people thrive and some people cringe, but you need to have a plan, a way to cope, regardless of your particular strengths and weaknesses. There is no volume knob on the universe, and, in my experience, the levels tend to crank at all the wrong moments.

That certainly could be a biased perspective, I don’t deny. I like it quiet, so I’m likely to notice noise more than someone who thrives in it. I don’t thrive. Quite a few loud noises make me cringe. Some even hurt. That will probably surprise some people who are familiar with my taste in music, which is often more than a little on the loud side, but that’s different. I’m not entirely certain I can explain why it’s different, but it is different. I suppose part of it is just the difference between “I like this sound and it gets better with volume” and “I don’t like this sound and it gets worse with volume,” but I don’t think that’s all of it. I know people who are huge fans of particular music, yet still don’t like that music to be too loud.

I suspect a large part of it is rooted in my obsession with music. To me, music has always been as natural as air and water. Music has been a part of my idea of peace and quiet for as long as I’ve had an idea of peace and quiet. When I used to run away to “the woods” to get away from it all, I always had headphones. I know some people don’t work that way, but there was never a contradiction for me. Music that I enjoy helps me to relax, therefore it is part of my peace and quiet. It blends into the natural rhythms of my mind.

If you haven’t tried it, I would suggest doing so. It may not work for you, but it’s worth a shot. One of the easiest ways to cancel out the noise when it gets too loud is to replace it with a more pleasing sound. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything. Just try something else. If it does work, you have a convenient way to turn down the volume of the world: just turn up the volume of what you want. Headphones and portable sources of music are both common as dirt these days, so it’s an easy option. I keep headphones stashed all over the place and, if no other option is available, my phone is a portable jukebox.

There are other ways of replacing one sound with another, if music and headphones don’t work for you. When Heather and I recently went to the Japanese Friendship Garden, sitting beside the waterfall and letting that sound drown out all others was one of the most peaceful experiences I can remember. It certainly wasn’t quiet, by any means, and yet the feeling was one of quiet. Does that make sense? There are sounds which are loud without being loud, and there are sounds which are quiet without being quiet. Rivers, waterfalls, and things of that nature often are, to me, the very definition of peaceful quiet even when they objectively are not quiet.

It’s a matter of perspective, but it’s also a matter of who you are and what the sound is. I’m not sure this is a perspective you can choose or learn, but I do think you can learn your own perspective on the matter and choose to use that to your benefit. Maybe for you the right sounds aren’t water and music. I know people who relax to the roar of an engine or the whine of an electric current. Most mechanical sounds won’t do it for me, but I’m hardly the best example of a normal experience. The point is, you may have your own sound that can make the world a little less loud. Play around with the idea, experiment, and see if you can find what works for you. You may have fun just in the search. Weirder things have happened.

Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but that beholder has ears too, and they’re just as individually selective. What works for one may not work for another, or may not work on a different day. Until you identify your personal preferences and patterns, it’s going to be hit and miss, and you may even have some misses after you do figure things out. This is not a perfect science, if that wasn’t already obvious. Find what works for you and use it. When it doesn’t work, don’t use it. That’s all you can do most of the time.

There are times, however, when the only solution for noise is silence. Real, dictionary-definition silence. This isn’t always easy to come by, but you can usually grab a little of it here and there. Go into an empty room and close the door. Depending on where you are, that may not be silent, but it should at least muffle. Count to ten in your head, forward and backward, forward and backward. Let the pattern in your mind drown out the sounds in your ear. Stare at a spot just in front of your noise and let your mind wander. We’re getting into forms of meditation here, but it works. You might be amazed at how much you can turn down the volume all on your own just by thinking - or perhaps more accurately, not thinking - about it. With practice and determination, you really can learn to make things more quiet, even if you don’t accomplish actual silence. If you can make things better, you can learn to make that work.

It’s a loud world, and we all need peace and quiet sometimes. That can be difficult to come by, but there are tricks. There are things you can learn. They won’t always be easy, and they won’t always be available, but better is better, so take it when you can. As with so many things, learning to work with better instead of expecting perfect can make all the difference. Sometimes it’s just going to be loud. Make peace with that, and you’ll be a step closer to having peace and quiet more often.

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