Listening to Silence

Not all meditation practices are silent, but those that are might offer a special health benefit that is simply the silence itself.

Scientists and doctors have known for decades that loud noises are dangerous, and can cause hearing loss, both in the short- and long-term. But how about the everyday racket, the sounds of heating systems, car engines, hallway conversations, and YouTube songs; Does steady exposure to “noise” affect our health? Is there anything to be gained by lowering the volume, perhaps even spending part of the day in silence?

Here are some links to explore on this topic:

  • Noise isn’t just annoying, it’s bad for your health by M. Mitra (Salon, first published in Earth Island Journal) explains how human-made noise is altering natural habitats. The article adds, “in humans, noise pollution damages hearing, disturbs communication, disrupts sleep, affects heart function, intrudes on cognition in children, reduces productivity, provokes unwanted behaviors, and increases accidents.
  • Scientific reports like the 2 listed below show that noise has adverse effects on human populations that go far beyond its effect on hearing loss, and the evidence for this is building over time. A Science Daily news story commenting on the 2014 report stated, “authors found evidence that long-term exposure to environmental noise affects the cardiovascular system, with connections to hypertension, ischemic heart diseases, and stroke. In addition, numerous studies pointed to associations between environmental noise exposure and sleep disturbance, children’s cognition, and negative effects in hospitals for both patients and staff.
  • Documentary film: In Pursuit of Silence. A review in Sierra magazine (May/June 2017) says the film “makes a powerful case that industrial society’s constant traffic, its chatter, its incessant social media pings, are reaching a fever pitch – one damaging to our physical, mental, and emotional health.

The Sierra article also quotes Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness, to good effect, “The pursuit of silence is about stepping further toward, not away from, the world.