I suppose it goes without saying that we live in a very fast-paced, hectic, and noisy world. We’re often in a big hurry to get somewhere. Stress is the norm and noise is all around us in the form of radios, televisions, iPods, etc. We’re plugged in but often tuned out. Very few of us live at the pace or volume of normal life.
So overstimulated are we that many literally cannot relax when it is quiet; silence unnerves them. I recently took an informal poll in a class I was teaching and found that 40% of the students said they cannot fall asleep without a television or radio playing in the background. Many phones and clock-radios have a “sleep” function to allow them to play for a certain amount of time and then turn off (presumably after we have fallen asleep). We used to set our clock-radios to wake us up; now we use them to “soothe” us to sleep with their background noise.
Wow, that’s really overstimulated.
Silence is precious and is a necessary ingredient for the spiritual life. We do well to build as much of it as possible into our lives. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, in his tome The Three Ages of the Interior Life, writes of the need to minimize distractions and noise:
We must create silence in our soul; we must quiet our more or less inordinate passions in order to hear the interior Master, who speaks in a low voice as a friend to his friend. If we are habitually preoccupied with ourselves, seek ourselves in our work, in our study and exterior activity, how shall we delight in the sublime harmonies of the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity present in us? … The disorder and clamor of our senses must truly cease for a life of prayer. … they [must] eventually become silent and submit with docility to the mind or the superior part of the soul (Vol 1, p. 455, Tan Publications).
Ask yourself if silence is a significant part of your day. Do you cultivate it? Many today struggle with prayer and other quieter activities like spiritual reading because they are overstimulated. Overstimulation leads to being easily bored, having a short attention span, and becoming anxious about silence or inactivity. This is a poisonous brew when it comes to prayer, which requires a certain love for silence, listening, patience, stillness, and restful attentiveness. Having the radio, television, or iPod going all day does not help our soul to hear the still, quiet voice of God.
Some of my quietest moments are my daily holy hour and then later in the day when I write these articles. I have come to cherish these quiet times when I listen to God and ponder His teachings. And then, having listened, I sit quietly again and compose these posts. I really could not write without silence; noise distracts my thoughts too much.
One year during Lent I realized that I had the radio on almost all day long in the background. I decided to turn it off and since then I’ve never gone back. I listen only briefly now, to hear the headlines, and then return to the quiet. I do not own a television. I do make use of Netflix, YouTube, and podcasts for selective viewing/listening of necessary and helpful material. Music, too, remains a joy for me, but not all day long, just on walks or when cleaning.
I only offer this personal testimony to suggest that if I, a former news junkie, could wean myself away, maybe others can too.
Our lives are hurried and noisy. Consider well Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s exhortation and build in silence through a growing mortification of the senses. Be very selective as to what you view/listen to, and how often you do so. Find time for silence; it is golden and necessary. I have that God is waiting there for us.
Here’s a beautiful hymn. I put the words in the first comment below:
And here is a noisy and truthful description of the problem: