Zen & The Art of Noise

July Men's Room column

Most mornings, I make coffee then sit on a cushion in my backyard and meditate. The goal is to develop patience and empathy for my fellow human beings. I’m sheepish to report, however, that in at least one area, I feel myself regressing even as I sit there: my dwindling patience for the unnecessary and annoying racket produced by human beings for whom, as a consequence, I feel less and less empathy.

To be clear, as I sit in my awkward half lotus, I don’t begrudge the early morning clatter of garbage trucks, the roar of commercial jets, the steady hum of passing traffic, or the sirens of emergency vehicles. I view these as necessary noises.

My beef is with the ever-growing cacophony of gratuitous noises: the recent uptick in military jets strafing the Port City’s soundscape (Can’t the high-decibel “sound of freedom” resound over cornfields instead?), monster pickups sans mufflers gunning it around my corner, an idiotic neighbor’s ear-piercing staccato guffaw, the wasp-like whine of weed whackers early on Sunday mornings, the window rattling, distorted bass from passing cars, et cetera ad nauseam.

So, while I’m supposed to be developing inner peace, I catch myself shushing the world instead. Mumbling to myself that everyone needs to “pipe down” like I’m a cranky old codger or a sour librarian in a “Dennis the Menace” comic.

But, what’s the point in complaining? Nobody likes a whiner. Plus, the local powers that be put up with chemicals in our drinking water for decades. Think they’re gonna do anything about a little noise pollution? So, I take a breath, close my eyes, and try to just sit with the noise.

If I’m patient, eventually there’s a break in humanity’s unnecessary and incoherent din. And if I pay attention, I’m privileged to hear a whole other set of sounds: the screech of a red-tailed hawk, the trill of cardinals and multitudinous other bird songs, the chattering of squirrels pursuing each other through my trees, a woodpecker’s hollow hammering, the scuttle of a skink over dead leaves.

I still miss the wild call of Blueberry the peacock who lived in Pine Forest Cemetery near my house but died during Hurricane Florence. A few mornings ago, however, I heard a new birdsong, and it was as much a revelation as finding a kind stranger sitting in my living room.

I don’t shush these sounds. I let them ground me in the here and now. I try to move my attention from my judgments and gripes and place it instead on the terra firma of sounds that have echoed on this planet since long before we arrived.

The real trick, it seems to me, would be to allow even the human sounds to ground us. Even at their most annoying and gratuitous. Even the jarring ones or the painful. Even the idiotic guffaw of a neighbor you’d once so blithely dismissed as a mindless fool.

Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.

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Categories: Culture