Pain and Quiet


I often listen to music or podcasts while cleaning or cooking or driving. I enjoy learning something new or pondering a different perspective while my hands are busy with other things.

This week I’ve been listening to the quiet. The quiet, I guess, can be a bit noisy at times—cars driving past, my Boston Terrier snoring, the neighbor’s lawnmower, the woodpecker in my maple tree.

Part of the reason I’m listening to the quiet is that it’s finally Spring and with the windows wide open I’m learning the sounds of my new neighborhood. Beyond that, however, I’m needing the space that quiet brings.

Last week was hard. Really the past couple months have been hard. My head and heart are full.

It’s tempting to turn the volume up and tune in to other people’s words about topics that feel less tender. In the short-term all the noise is a welcome distraction from the grief and fear and painful memories. But that’s what it is—a distraction.

That’s how I’ve generally coped in the past—shoving down my feelings, drowning out my thoughts. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the hard things go away. In my experience, they pop up again , often in unexpected ways.

Right now, I’m trying to do the opposite. I want to face my thoughts and emotions instead of hiding from them. I’m not, however, trying to drag myself through anything by force. Instead, I’m making a point of opening up space in my life.

One way I’m doing that is limiting my consumption of words and noise. In the quiet there’s room for my thoughts and feelings to surface where they can be seen, acknowledged, and explored. It’s easier to sit with whatever comes up when I’ve set aside the distractions I usually hide behind.

Now I’m not saying all this space is comfortable. There’s a reason our impulse is to distract ourselves. I’ve relived memories of moments I’d rather forget. I’ve curled up on the floor and sobbed. I’ve been confronted with regrets about how I could have acted better. I’ve asked questions that don’t seem to have answers.

But I’m already experiencing the rewards of making space for quiet. Hiding in the noise can distract us from pain, at least for a while, but it drowns out all the good things too.

In making space for my tears, I’ve opened space for joy as well. When I acknowledge what hurts, I also notice what helps. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, it’s little things like the calls of the Phoebe birds that remind me there is hope.

Listening to the quiet doesn’t keep me from feeling pain, but making space to experience the hurt does help me avoid getting stuck in it. Even when it’s hard, I’d rather live connected and present than distracted and numb.

I know I’ll hide behind the noise again and sometimes it’s a much needed rest to distract ourselves for a time. Right now I’m choosing to spend at least part of each day in the quiet of the ambient sights and sounds around me. It’s hard but good.

How about you? What hurts right now? How have you been avoiding difficulty or pain? Would you be willing to spend a few extra minutes in the quiet this week? What comes up when you do?