Some of you might remember the spoken word song in the early 70’s entitled “Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste” which had the refrain “You are a Child of the Universe…” Is it triggering anything? There are some folks that are understandably kind of fuzzy about those days but it is based on the poem Desiderata written by Max Erhmann, an Indiana lawyer, in 1927. Two quick points: the Grammy winning song version we are familiar with was spoken by Les Crane who was married to Tina Louise, who played “Ginger” on Gilligans Island. (I have now used up valuable storage space in your brain with more useless information). The second point is that if you get a chance, go back and read the poem; it is timeless and makes more sense to me now than it did as a kid.
It begins with: Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. This initial statement written some 90 years ago ties into current brain research which simply put, indicates silence is golden when it comes to brain health. We inherently should know this and probably didn’t need a scientist to tell us that too much noise, all the time, is not good for us. Ester Buchholz rightly observed, “Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.” Indeed.
The World Health Organization and European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has linked noise pollution to increased stress, heart disease, sleep loss, high blood pressure, decreased motivation, increased error making, and lower performance at work and school. Your cognitive functions most affected by noise are memory, problem solving, creativity, and reading focus. A study by the Duke University found if you can carve out some silence in your day, you just might benefit with the growth of new brain cells in your hippocampus – the part of your brain associated with memory.
When you rest your grey matter or provide a release from careful attention, it gives your brain a chance to focus, and self-reflect. Instead of listening to what’s going on around you, you get to listen to what’s going on inside your head. When there is complete silence your brain’s cortex remains active and dynamic like your computer. It works at sorting, recalling, organizing, evaluating, predicting, and imagining. Also, like your computer, too much “noise” – a dozen webpages open, 4 programs running, streaming your music – it starts to choke, hang-up or freeze; hey, just like us!
Personally, we try and destress each day after work by sitting down at a coffee shop, ruminate over the day then file it away so we can go home and start our evening activities with a fresh reset. You definitely notice a difference in the process if you happen to be sitting at a café table outside and get a procession of transport trucks and vacation traffic roaring down Main Street as compared to an occasional vehicle idling by. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great to be outside in our little town – but you certainly see where less noise provides a healthier calming experience.
So, todays lesson – if you can, be intentional about finding silence in your day. Find a peaceful place in your neighborhood and go for a walk. Take a drive up a forestry road or the lake where you can hear the wind in the trees or watch your bobber bounce on the ripples and, as Lead Belly used to sing about in the 1940’s, Relax Your Mind.