October 15, 2019

The Search for Inner Space

It's come down to my morning shower. That's the only time it seems, of late, when I can be quietly alone, free to think undisturbed. At all other times, I'd say we are living in a 1984 world, surrounded by TV screens blasting 24-hour news that's hardly news at all, but still manages to keep most private thoughts at bay.

Used to be you could enter a coffee shop in the morning for a quiet cuppa, but today's coffeehouses feel compelled to stream talk radio or popular music as non-negotiable accompaniment to your caffeine fix. Gas stations (where only last year, one could happily space out whilst filling up) now regale their captive audience with annoying recordings of junk-food specials, as do drugstores and most any store one encounters on the daily run.

Even hospitals and doctors' waiting rooms have decided, practically in lockstep, that out-of-date magazines are no longer sufficient to help patients while away the wait. Most have disposed of printed matter altogether. This particularly saddens me, as browsing waiting-room literature was a favorite way of discovering new periodicals and catching up with popular culture (not to mention how the “reading room” atmosphere tended to act as an inducement for library-style silence). But here, too, quiet has been banished forever with the installation of TV monitors set quietly (but never quite quietly enough) to CNN or inane talk shows. Apparently, the sick and ailing must first be anesthetized from serious thought and vigorously entertained.

At the gym, rows of treadmills and cycles are coupled with in-your-face TV monitors one simply can't avoid for the duration of one's workout. And just in case you get bored on your short stroll to the restroom, all halls and lobbies come equipped with chatty overhead television sets as well. Moreover, I can hardly remember entering a moderately priced restaurant (and I'm not even referring to those wall-to-wall-TV-screaming sports bars or the sad, media-infiltration of traditional, conversation-friendly Irish pubs), without being accosted by streaming video. Daily, legions of hapless hungry diners are subjected to a melting pot mélange of noise—in every language and to suit every culinary taste. From Telemundo and non-stop soccer at the Latino grill, to Bollywood soaps and talk shows at the Indian Buffet; Hebrew cable newscasts at the Israeli falafel joint, to crass American reality shows and sports-all-the-time at the diner and pizzeria . . . there's simply no escape.

Find your quiet refuge at home, one might submit. But which home, these days, does not feature a TV set on the kitchen counter, in the family room, and one per bedroom as well? Broadcast noise—be it news, drama, or pop music—is turned on somewhere all the time in most contemporary households. It's the switch that's activated first upon waking in the morning and the last to be shut off (and here I include laptop and iPad YouTube viewing) upon retiring at night. I hate to say this, but even when visiting friends—whatever their age—at some point (if not from the get-go), guests are invited to share the couch and watch a video or TV.

All this outside noise has been overwhelming our lives just when science seems to have arrived at proof confirming the old, common-sense saw concerning the brain's need for uninterrupted quiet time to function properly: to think, to grow, to come up with original ideas. Teachers take note: Daydreaming has been cited as essential for the progress of humanity. What came naturally in the past (with many, regular opportunities for quiet reflection throughout the day), now necessitates an all-out war for our mind's integrity against increasingly loud distractions. The newly popular practice of “Mindfulness” is but one example of our soul's yearning to shut out the noise and pay attention to the moment. By focusing on precious moments of interior awareness, we can, at least temporarily, not pay attention to all those blasting speakers and TV monitors that surround our daily activities.

Meditation and yoga classes, too, it appears, have been increasing in popularity alongside our noisy world for the express purpose of gaining a few moments of concentrated attention and mindful silence. I regularly attend a yoga class, though I must admit that while practicing the repetitive poses (which by now I know by heart), I will allow my mind to wander and simply think. Perhaps it's wrong of me to use my yoga sessions as more reflective “shower time,” as it were. But where else can I find the quiet, inner-mind-space to come up with essays such as this?

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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