Silence or deafening night?

Silent Night, Holy Night is the title of the Christmas carol which celebrated its bicentenary this Christmas. More people than ever seem to want silence. At the same time, reality often sounds different: Noise – around the clock!

Holy silence and deafening noise? A question of power and powerlessness?

In the near future, the majority of people will live in the cities of the world and will produce one thing in particular, among other legacies: Noise! Because life and noise are inevitably linked. In the past, however, the world was not quieter. The hammering, beating and filing of the craftsmen in the medieval alleys must have been deafening, describe historians. Every generation already complained that the world was so loud. As early as 1908, Theodor Lessing launched the first anti-noise movement with a “Kampfschrift gegen die Geräusche des Lebens”.

Noise is more than noise: it is a demonstration of power!

Unlike our eyes, we cannot easily close our ears. We can keep them closed or even walk, but in urban life – so it seems – we are completely defenceless against the everyday noise. Sounds can render us powerless: Noise can enter our private space – for example our bedroom – without any physical contact. The noise of the city encroaches on our territory. Retreat is often hardly possible. We are occupied by the noise. He becomes an enemy in our empire.

Sounded and tortured.

We know that noise can be torture. Sound reinforcement around the clock in completely dark rooms is used as a torture method to make the detainees talk. For over a longer period of time, noise increasingly weakens our willpower and ability to concentrate. It is hard to believe that children’s songs are a particularly effective instrument of torture: Melodies from television programmes for small children are used in torture. For example the title melody of “Sesame Street” by Christopher Cerf.

To regain power and silence – but how?

Help from research? Against the background of urbanisation and rising noise levels, it is not surprising that researchers are often concerned with the issue of noise control. One method is to pick up noise at the same frequency as it is transmitted. You can imagine it like a billiard ball whose run is stopped by another. Using this principle, researchers from the Nanyang Technical University in Singapore are working on a device with which they want to combat street noise with sound.

It should enable people in need of rest to open the window despite the noise in front of the house. For this purpose, the device is to be mounted directly on the window grille and, by means of a microphone and a loudspeaker, calculate exactly those acoustic waves that hit it and reflect the opposite wave pattern in real time. This slows down or even eliminates the noise. There should then – even with the window open – be no street noise in the room. So far, however, it is a prototype and the series production is still a long way off. What else can we do to free ourselves from our powerlessness and noise?

Freedom begins in the mind: an awareness of the perception and definition of noise.

Anyone who has ever lived with a teenager knows that a distinction can be made between objective noise and subjective perception of sound. Because every acoustically perceptible sound is a noise. However, the point at which we perceive a certain sound as noise varies from person to person. Like the music that emanates from the rooms of the pubescent flatmates, for example, which obviously does not appear to them as unbearable noise. Likewise, we perceive the screeching of seagulls and the roar of waves less as noise. It is therefore worth finding out why and when we perceive noise as such.

Personal strategies for inner silence.

In addition to a sharpened awareness of our perception and definition of noise, we can reach inner silence. Theodor Itten gives practical advice in “From the art of silence to commanded silence” on how people can achieve inner silence. Retreating from the place of noise is of course part of it. It should also help to close one’s eyes in case of noise in order to eliminate further influences from outside. Whoever then drops his chin towards the heart to hear the sounds of his body – like his own heartbeat – will increasingly find inner peace, he promises. The prerequisite is, however, that one practices inner contemplation at the same time every day.

For this purpose, I downloaded the wonderful Calm app on my mobile phone, which I use every morning to practice ten minutes of meditation to reach inner silence. It’s already working!

I wish you from the bottom of my heart a quiet or rather a “noise-harmonious” second Christmas day!

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