A few years ago I was at a day conference with Silence in the City. It was a hot summer’s day. I was due to meet up with a couple of people later. Towards the end of the talk, both people sent texts begging off because of the heat. I was irritated. I do not understand being unable to cope with the heat. Just deal with it!
I had a discomfiting revelation the next day. I was at a meeting in a church in the City. There was so much noise: the interminable roar of traffic and the beeping of reversing trucks; the wearing whir of air-conditioning; the repetitious patronising announcements on public transport. I struggle with noise. I get steamed up. I just want some silence!
Where shall the word be found, where will the wordTS Eliot, Ash Wednesday V
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence …
Noise is my kryptonite. The ‘discomfiting’ revelation was an equation: my response to noise is like their response to heat, and if I can’t cope with noise I must allow them not to cope with heat. I could show a little kindness. We each have our bêtes noires.
I stayed at Montserrat in Spain for three nights at the end of September. The landscape is beautiful and impressive. The monastery and basilica are beautiful and impressive too, but they are a production. A steady stream of coaches brings tourists. I went to the basilica several times during my visit. It was impossible to find a quiet place to pray. There was an incessant flow of people making a noise, milling around, chatting, taking selfies, ordering each other about, and squeezing past where I was sitting. I could not settle to prayer. I grew irate.
And then, by grace, I realised I had a choice: I could indulge the fury or I could pray. I chose to pray. I chose to see this as an opportunity to practise being centred, focused, present, and attentive in the midst of continual disturbance. I chose presence over anger. A non-distracted, non-anxious, centre grew in my chest.
[For more about choosing presence over anger, read this.]
An image of a boulder in a fast-flowing river came (by grace) to me. The river is rushing along and making a lot of noise about it. It is exciting and attention-seeking. The boulder is unperturbed. The river has to find a way around.
[Read this to learn how to practise being like the boulder, intent of being, while everything around it is calling for attention.]
We are assaulted by claims on attention: distraction is the means and the end of consumerism. Moreover, I choose distraction over what is most important to me. I tend towards the quick and easy entertainments and tasks that give a short-term lift, rather than more satisfying undertakings requiring greater effort and concentrated attention over a longer time. I want to choose what to attend to, or I fear I will never do anything properly and never really live.
[For help choosing what to do next, read this.]