Friday, July 8, 2011

Shutting out the noise

I have never been wild about silence and solitude. When people talked about their ideal getaways to quiet places because they found them peaceful, I would be preplexed. I found 'Quiet', quite disquieting. For me, Peace needn't necessarily correlate to quietness. One can find peace in the middle of chaos too. It all depends on your level of comfort in your given environment, independant of whether it is calm or chaotic. Or so I thought for a very long time, partly because of my inadequacy in dealing with absolute silence (pin-drop-silence, like the Nuns at school used to call it), and partly because of my need to talk/sing/hum or make some noise (no, farting strictly doesn't qualify for self-amusement in my book) just so that I feel alive. (Confession: I could never meditate, because I was just not ready to accept the nothingness around me. I used to find it un-nerving, so I would think of something to keep my mind busy.) Initially, when I became aware of my phobia of silence, I even googled it to read up more in an attempt to counter it. It didn't quite help, except for giving me a new word to add to my (pitiful) vocabulary. 'Sedatophobia', it is. Yes people, you can please take a moment to thank me for introducing you to that word, before reading further. If by any chance, you have read about it, like me, then let's have a warm virtual bear hug and then continue with my issues with silence.

It was when I moved in to my own little abode in '05, that I got to experience how wonderful silence could be. My pad was in this sleepy little town of Mohali, where on sundays you could spot many beautiful women riding their bikes with their long gorgeous mane blowing in the wind, like in the shampoo ads. Until you see that they are well blessed with hair on their beautiful faces as well. Oh wait, that's a Sardarji enj(w)oying his Sunday after his weekly hairwash! But, I still maintain, their hair can put any 'Dhatri ayurvedic hair oil' model to shame. And I'm serious. Such shiny, silky mane! I'm not sure whether it has got to do with sun protection gear or their 'headbath only once a week, ji!' funda. I haven't tried either so can't vouch for them. Ah, I digress. So, I found this well furnished, 1st floor apartment (at almost a quarter of what it would have costed me in Bangalore, I must say!) overlooking the children's play area of a lively park. The kids in the play area contributed to the cacophony which would make me feel at home. I would sit in the balcony to see them play their little tricks and have their little fights. It was all nice, except that I would never get to talk much. The initial days at work was bitter-sweet. I found a bunch of super nice people, and then on the other end of the spectrum, got a bunch of well.. umm.. let's simply put them as people a tad too insensitive. Like the teammate who laughed heartily at a silly joke I cracked and quickly turned around to share the joke with the rest of the gang who went '***ji, aap toh bade smart ho! kaise soch lete ho aap yeh sab'. And he sat with a self important air while I was busy scraping my jaw from the floor. (Later I learnt that he thought that I didn't know hindi, so that was apparently his pervert idea of having a little private joke at the expense of a silly south Indian, by translating the joke from English to Hindi, and dishing it out as his own.) This environment of extremities was very different to me from the one I came from. My world was something that would fit smugly to the term 'Mediocristan' as Taleb would call it. When we are brought up in a society, we involuntarily pick up the behavioral and thinking patterns of the regular crowd in that society and adapt ourselves to it. Though when we suddenly find ourselves planted in a society which has a different temperament, it calls for a little more than the regular easy-go-lucky attitude to survive. On impulse, I knew the first thing I needed was a place just to myself. A place I didn't want to share with anyone. I was much amused with the suddenness of the thought hitting me and the diligence with which I went about it, but I've always had too much trust in my intution.

But that was just the beginning. I would go for late evening walks in the park, plonk myself near the dancing fountain where little Punjabi kids would do their balle balle's and practise their Dhoom moves to the Daler Mehandi songs electrifying the air around me. And just like that, when 8:30 strikes, poof, the music would go off, and so would the dancing fountain along with their colorful lights. And then, would come the deafening silence. Mothers would quickly collect their tiny tots and go home to make garam garam rotis. And I would just get myself up and walk myself home with the same urgency as others. Herd mentality is quite an involutary phenomenon, I'm told. And on the way back, I would realise the silence, breathe in the silence and feel good about it. Those were the times when I learned to be friends with myself. I am a friendly person otherwise, but I hadn't really been my own best friend until then. It came naturally. And it came during those precious moments of silence. Slowly I started finding comfort in solitude, as a state of being. It became the most conductive environment to unwind, to introspect, to assimilate my lessons, to make my little Plans-of-Action. Alternatively, I would write. And I soon discovered the advantage writing gives me in processing my thoughts. Things started becoming more structured.

I lived in that place close to an year, quite the most remarkable year of my life so far. I met many people, made many meaningful friendships which have lasted the test of time, learned to draw boundaries and respect them, pushed my limits and overcame many fears (one of which is Sedatophobia, of course). Quietness was the best tool I've ever found to find that inner harmony. And then, Bangalore happened. Again. The city I've always been hoeplessly in love with.

Bangalore brought me back to my state of noise spiked sense of well-being, and I settled down well after some mild withdrawal symptoms, like talking to old dost log from balle-balle land and reminiscing the happy times. But Bangalore being Bangalore (technically that would be wrong, because Bangalore became Bengaluru by the time I hit the shore for my 2nd innings here), made sure that I fit in like a pair old gloves. Eventually, I forgot the joys of Solitude and said hello to the same old Sedatophobia. My sense of awareness was at an all-time low. As much as it comforts, Noise also distracts. It keeps your mind away from things that need your attention. I walked into a world that was falling apart, without even realising it. Not until everything really fell apart.

And then there were people. People who loved to talk, just like me. They all had something to tell me. Every one of them. Everyone apparently knew (exactly) what I should do.
Some were the followers of 'The Secret' sponsored laws of attraction. According to them, I must be doing something wrong that things are going southwards for me. Imagine good things, they would tell me. World would have been such a gay place if you just had to think a thought to manifest it, I would say, but to no avail.
Some just wanted to use the opportunity to feel a little self important to be in a superior-than-thou mode and feel good about themselves for sharing their crap gyan.
Some would just say, 'I know what you are going through because I myself am struggling with....' to launch into their current pity story. Trust me, finding audience for pity stories is a very daunting experience. People scavenge for someone who is going through a harder time than themselves and then get started. For example, talking about a stalled promotion to someone who just lost her job.
Some were just too convinced that they need to tell me what I should be doing. They believe that they know what is right for everyone, especially me.

After dealing with many such specimens in a very short time, I quickly got back to following my instincts. As a verbose talker, I've always had this urge to make my point clear to others. And it was during this time of trials that I realised that it drains me of energy. Energy, I would rather use in working my way out of the mess. One by one, I would cut down on the self-appointed advisors. Some would take offence. Some would understand. Some just knew when to step back and give me space. Some needed to be told sternly to eff-off. I re-learned to draw my boundaries, and implement them effectively. I was becoming more aware, could sense it immediately when anyone took unwanted liberties, and could bring down my response time drastically. Now I am pretty pleased with myself for that. This activity has helped me clear a lot of muck, and has helped me gain a lot of clarity. It's been one of the best cleansing activities I have ever indulged in.

Television was the first to go. It's been 32 months of TV-free life, and I can never stress enough about its benefits. the daily newspaper was something I was addicted to, which was one of the prime sources of noise. Media needs to sensationalise everything for their survival, and I decided I was just not going to allow them to push it down my throat. Just not done. I got to reading weekly round-ups which would give me just the news minus the sensationalisation.

I had to just become choosy about what / whom I open up my time and attention to, and as if my magic, I started finding time to do things that I truly value. My life started becoming more meaningful. I could 'generate' time for reading books, for some serious learning, for growing my knowledge base on disciplines I never thought I would want to know more about. It's been such a wonderful experience, all thanks to shutting out the noise outside, for that is what enabled me to tune into the voice within.


  1. Wow Usha!! Thats so well written. And I am immensely inspired by the fact that you are adding value to your life - not by something that money can buy...but by knowledge..something that can never be taken away from you. Kudos my friend!!

  2. I like that very much. Removing all the unwanted noises in life. Kudos Usha dear, for it takes a really strong will to actually do all you plan to do. Many of us make such elaborate plans but do nothing about following any of it! Loved this post. Cheerios!

  3. You r back? Wow that's nice. n yeh agree to cut out unwanted noise. Didn't know u were even off TV n newspapers. That's a BIG step :)

  4. @Shalu: Thanks, girl! :) well, what d'u know.. I'm very much after the 'things-that-money-can-buy' too! ;) I'm human, and I prefer to love both the spiritual and materialistic worlds. bias free, guilt free. :)

    @Cris: looks who's back! :)
    I still have a long way to go in terms of impementation of plans, but I'm trying my best with my ever-changing plans. Ok, let's call them 'evolving', rather than 'changing', just so that I'll feel a li'l better about it! :P

    @Dhanya: yes I am! yes I am! :D and it's good to be back.
    yeah got the cable connection cut in Dec'08. The daily newspaper was one of the most difficult habits to kick. I had to be weaned from it by sticking to those cumbersome online versions.
    and you are right, that was one of the biggest steps, as those are the biggest sources of noise in most of our lives.