We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I can recall an acquaintance once remarking that each of us is troubled by something and it’s often the dominant thought in our head. It could be an argument with our spouse, a perceived public slight, our finances, or a conflict at work. And that once we resolve whatever issue is at the forefront, our next most pressing conflict comes rushing in. We go through life moving from one worry to the next, our heads full of noise.
Noise has a way of distracting us from what really matters.
To the Trappist monk and noted author Thomas Merton, noise represented one of the biggest problems of our modern society—because when our heads are filled with noise, whether it’s self-generated or it comes from our immediate environment, we go through life off balance and disconnected from our spiritual nature. In the book No Man is an Island, Merton writes:
Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions, a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened, debased by the constant noise of machines, the dead air and glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestions of advertising and propaganda.
Christian musician John Michael Talbot, who is also founder of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity based at Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas, explains the problem in a similar manner: “The world’s noise has a way of deflecting people from the deeper realities of life. It keeps us preoccupied with the superficial at the expense of the meaningful.” Or, as Anne Morrow Lindberg so eloquently states, noise stops us from hearing the “inner music.”
How do we hear the inner music? By making time for stillness and solitude.
Talbot encourages us to take breaks from the stresses of the everyday. He writes that places like monasteries, retreat centers, and hermitages (which literally means the dwelling place of hermits), were created “so that people who wanted to hear the still, small voice of God could turn down the deafening and disquieting cacophony of sounds coming from a busy, bustling world.”
But since most of us have families and jobs and a retreat is out of the question, how do we find the space to hear our thoughts? Where can we access the silence and solitude that, in the words of Merton, allow us to “recuperate spiritual powers that may have been gravely damaged by the noise and rush of a pressurized existence”?
We need to set time aside to recharge our spiritual batteries.
You can do it in your own home. For me, this especially holds true on Sundays as I get ready for the new week. It’s a time to detach from work, and as Merton says “see all things in the light of faith.” This means expressing gratitude for the good in our lives, asking for guidance with the things that trouble us, and trusting that our needs and concerns will be addressed.
(People) need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their true self to be heard at least occasionally. ~Merton
Is your schedule jam-packed with work, chores, and other responsibilities? You might consider carving out some alone time early in the morning or later at night. Set your alarm clock 15-30 minutes earlier a few days a week. Or, after saying good night to your significant other, retreat to the den or the quietest part of your home for a few moments. Find the time for solitude. Talbot puts this in a spiritual context:
There’s nothing magical about solitude that makes God suddenly appear. God is everywhere all the time. It’s just that most of the time we are so busy with everything else that we don’t notice. But by practicing the discipline of solitude, we are creating a space in our lives where God can be with us.
Will you make time to hear the “inner music”?
This story will be included in the book version of Wake Up Call, a compilation of my top stories from 2013-2023. It will be released November 1, 2023, via Wildhouse Publishing.