By Dana Gornall
I pull up to the car dealer garage entrance and make a quick visual survey of my car.
Realizing that it needs a really good cleaning, I sigh and get out, unhooking my ignition key from the rest of the keychain. I check in, the man directs me where to wait and I cross the slippery, painted concrete floor carefully. Taking a seat in the fairly empty waiting room, I check my phone for the time and any recent messages, then open the book I have brought and begin to read.
Except, I can’t seem to focus.
The television that is mounted on the wall diagonally from me is blaring—a talk show is on, discussing the latest Terminator movie. I glance up, thinking about the last couple of Terminator movies and start wondering how many more of these they are going to make. I listen for a minute and return to my book.
After reading a few lines in of the next paragraph, I hear another guest on the show discussing the latest controversy about the confederate flag. Again, my eyes are led up to the screen and I watch.
Sighing heavily now, I wish I could just get up and shut it off.
Looking around the room I notice there is a woman watching it intently, a man trying to keep his two little girls entertained and another guy scrolling through social media on his cell phone.
I suppose turning the television off is probably not an option. Or maybe it is, but I am a little shy and not very assertive so I try returning to my book. After a few failed attempts, I pick up my phone and post a complaint on Facebook about the prevalence of televisions in waiting rooms, stores, restaurants and pretty much everywhere we turn. I wonder if society is losing the value of silence, I type.
Everywhere we go there are televisions. I see them in restaurants, in stores while waiting in the check out line, at amusement parks and in waiting rooms. Sometimes I see them in parents’ vans while they take their kids to school.
I’ve heard that people can’t stand long, extended periods of silence, and I can relate to that. There are times when the house is quiet, I find myself searching for a connection or someone to talk with. Yet, the alternative of being continually inundated with sound and noise—news, opinions, stories, music—can be equally maddening, at least for me.
A psychological study performed by the University of Virginia asked a group of willing participants to sit in a room for a time ranging from six to 15 minutes. They were not allowed to fall asleep or get out of their chairs. Electrodes were attached to each person’s ankle and they were given the option to shock themselves while waiting. 67 percent of the men in the group and 25 percent of the women pressed the button at least once to give themselves a shock.
While many of the initial studies were performed on younger people, studies were later done with a more varied group—a different selection of backgrounds and ages ranging from 18-77 years old. The results were almost the same.
Is it possible that most people would rather inflict pain on themselves than sit for 15 minutes doing nothing? Have we become a culture of excessive need in which we desire constant engagement?
Studies have shown that learning to train the mind through meditation and even basic mindfulness has been known to not only improve concentration and focus, but improve overall mood, lessen depression and emotional extremes, defuse anger and even change the physiology of the brain to work more efficiently. While I am still a beginner, and struggle with short periods of meditation, I also find myself craving space, pause and quiet.
One concept that seems to be threaded through most Buddhist thought and teaching is that of The Middle Way—meaning that any extreme thought of one way or the other can be destructive, but rather finding a balance of something in between is the ideal.
So while complete silence can feel overwhelming to some, is it possible that constant noise and engagement can have even more detrimental effects on our brains?
While I do not plan to sign up for any extended meditation retreats anytime soon, and I am still working on lengthening my “sit” time in small increments, I wonder if it wouldn’t hurt for more of us to possibly turn off the televisions and radios and just watch the world (and our thoughts) go by.
A Facebook friend commented on my television complaint, suggesting we encourage people to turn of the televisions in waiting rooms and restaurants.
“Good idea,” I replied, “kind of like the Great American Smoke Out.”
So maybe an idea was planted, or maybe not. Televisions, media and sound are almost unavoidable these days unless you trek to a country field or find a patch of woods to spend time in. And maybe if we aren’t careful, people may start mounting televisions in the trees soon and offering free wifi in the forest.
The door to the waiting room opens and a service man calls out my name. I pay the bill, take my key back from him and carefully cross through the slippery, painted concrete floor of the garage. I open my car door, slide in, turn the key in the ignition and reach for the radio button. Stopping within an inch of turning it on, I pause.
Maybe, I will drive to work in silence today.
Editor: Ty H Phillips