Rx: Silence by Joy Jones
“There’s a time to sing and a time to shout and then there’s a time to just chill on out.” So proclaimed an old rap song. And it’s so true; people need chill out stations. The library is a chill out, think-deep space; a place for quiet. Not as quiet as it was in my youth, when the hush was as thick as a blanket and loud talking seemed like a criminal offense.
Today’s libraries have a livelier personality with movies, videos, kids’ crafts, job hunt workshops and lively lectures taking place. More the flavor of a recreation center than a shrine for research. That’s good but it’s also a loss because I think the human spirit has a craving for personal silence, shared silence, and stillness.
I work at a public library and one of the things I find curious is that someone will come to the library – not to get books, or use the computer – but to talk on the phone. I think they instinctively gravitate to a quiet place to hold their conversations. (Although they disturb the peace for the rest of us with their noisy chin-wags!) Nowadays, phone conversations often take place in line at the grocery store, walking down a busy street, crouched in a toilet stall, or even more alarmingly – behind the wheel. None of these places accord serenity of thought or lend focus to conversation. They diminish the quality of the exchange.
We need to bring back that antiquated structure – the telephone booth! We need that place where we can enclose the quiet, exclude eavesdropping and infuse silence.
But I realize that the phone booth – or the library – of a generation ago is not coming back. We need a metaphorical phone booth. Some form or format that will help us recapture and preserve stillness.
Stillness helps you to remember yourself. Renew yourself. Revive your spirit. Profound things start in tranquil quiet – seeds, ideas, embryos. Sitting still also makes for good reading.
Stillness does not mean you perpetrate a stone statue. You can actually move while maintaining an attitude of stillness. Once, I was responsible for planning a workshop when the main speaker cancelled on me. While at work, I wracked my brain wondering who I could get as a replacement. It was while in motion in yoga class, that the ideal person’s name dropped into my mind. I called him the next day and he was glad to do it.
One day I was getting into my car, my hand automatically reaching for the radio but something on the inside of me said ‘No.’ I drove in silence and my imagination took over, helping me to work out ideas for the middle grade novel I was working on. Tranquillity begets serendipity.
The coronavirus pandemic has jammed all of us into a communal detached phone booth of sorts. The physical distancing has pushed us to rely a bit more on inner resources. It has forced us towards a tiny aspect of a cloistered lifestyle. It’s a scary time but it’s also a time to re-set and slow down. As we submit in response to this new normal, we learn that sometimes serenity emerges from surrender.
Reading is a part of this formula. I think reading quietly allow ideas to sink more deeply in the mind. It helps the imagination transform black marks on a white page into vivid scenes and striking characters. I’ve done my fair share of reading while on a clattering subway train or in a chattering classroom and I appreciate the power of the printed page to carry me away from the present environment to a better place. But when I can read in silence, it seems like I think ideas through more thoroughly, turn them this way and that, slowly examine and evaluate them, embrace or discard as necessary.
Reading on the fly – scrolling through a site while standing in line, glancing at a book while keeping an ear out for your number to be called at the DMV, relegating reading to the thirty seconds before the sandman has you snoring – it’s better than nothing but it diminishes the reading experience. Give reading the surround silence experience. Tranquillity begets readability.
Sleep specialists recommend reserving the bed for sleeping and intimacy only – no TV watching, web browsing or cell checking. Writers often set aside a designated space for writing so that the subconscious knows that when you sit here it’s time to create. I think we may need to set aside a sanctuary for ourselves for silence. A few minutes to meditate in the morning, a radio-free commute, a quiet walk after dinner without headphones. Everybody wants their life to be full and busy. But ‘full’ and ‘busy’ are not synonymous terms. Don’t let busy living prevent full living. When your life operates on a constant busy signal, that’s the signal you need an infusion of silence.
Set aside some silence for yourself. Don’t cheat yourself out of a daily dose of peace and quiet. A chill pill a day keeps the doctor away. Tranquility begets serenity.
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Joy Jones works for DC Public Library and is the author of the YA how-to, Fearless Public Speaking. Her first novel debuts this fall. Jayla Jumps In, is a story about a girl who starts a double Dutch team. Joy actually founded and participates in an adult double Dutch team, DC Retro Jumpers. Find her on Instagram, #joyjones1433 or at her website, www.JoyJonesOnline.com.