Coping With Urban Noise

My View of the Lake

 

This photo shows the view I have from my camping chair under the trees at my sprawling urban apartment complex.  The houses and the boats and the docks are removed.  I only wish I could remove the noise that accompanies them.  It was quite hot in my corner of the world the other day, so I went down to my sanctuary to read in the shade.  My peace was interjected with loud voices and a radio at the nearby swimming pool, and the blast of city machinery doing maintainance on the trail next to us.  Traffic on the congested arterial on the other side provided percussion for this orchestra of pollution.  Given all the variables in my life, this is the best place for me to live, so I must learn to cope.  I take myself away to the beach at off times of day, and that helps immensely.  This early this morning before the noise ensued I heard birds and bullfrogs.  Delightful. This is not enough, however.  I have to make peace with this situation, so I returned to the mindfulness teaching of Thicht Naht Hanh.  In response to a question about dealing with stress at work, he said this:

  “…when you hear the telephone ringing you can consider it to be the sound of the mindfulness bell. You practice telephone meditation. Every time you hear the telephone ringing you stay exactly where you are (laughter). You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen-this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you stand up and you go to the telephone with dignity (laughter). That means in the style of walking meditation (laughter). You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.” Thicht Nhat Hanh  www.ic.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/dailylife/thayq-a.html

So, I will try using the sound of the leaf blower as the bell of mindfulness.  Hopefully my faithfulness to the practice will replace impatience and frustration.  You may find the embedded video helpful.  Sister Dang Nhiem from Deer Park Monastery.  I close with her  “Poem for Inviting the Bell.”

My body, speech and mind in perfect oneness.

I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.

May the hearer awaken from forgetfulness and transcend all anxiety.

Eyes on the Conductor

crows and willows

Every evening, one hour before sunset, the crow migration begins.  From my living room chair, perched on the sixth floor, I watch.  In groups of ten to twenty the birds fly past my window en route to their nesting grounds in Bothell, north of Seattle.  They fly to the wetlands on the University of Washington campus.  Other groups make their nightly pilgrimage from the Skaget Valley south to Bothell. They choose this place because the branches of the willow trees make noise when owls land on them, allowing them a safe night’s rest.

Last summer I made the pilgrimage to Bothell at dusk to take in this phenomenon. Scientists estimate that ten thousand crows congregate here. Take it from me. At least ten thousand. See the video below to get a sense of it. The sky became opaque and the air carried raucous, deafening cries. It takes a spirit of adventure to immerse oneself in the midst of them. Shortly after dark, as if a conductor had given a signal, all noise  and movement ceased. Peace prevailed in the willow trees down in the wetland. The next morning I watched groups of ten to twenty crows fly by my window, on their return trip to their day jobs.

How do they know? What tells them when and where? Is it in their genetic code? Why is it such a community venture? I don’t know. Scientists have some answers. PBS has an amazing documentary about experiments with crows by University of Washington scientists. I have come to respect and treasure these highly intelligent tool makers and profilers. But what I want to ponder here is the spiritual truths and practices crows can teach us:

INSTINCT
The crows teach me the truth about our spiritual genetic codes. Instinct is the essence and intuition its vehicle of expression. Our souls instinctively tend toward what is good, and intuition discerns the route and destination. We are most god-like when we are faithful to intuition.

COMMUNITY
“Birds of a feather flock together,” they say. Another spiritual truth is that we are not alone. Community protects and nourishes us and calls us to act justly. I imagine ten thousand persons united in the pursuit of goodness. What a goodly cacaphony they would raise!

EYES ON THE CONDUCTOR
The crow migration reminds me to listen to the conductor. We all carry the potential for intuition, but it does not develop on its own. The crows instinctively know when it’s time to go to the willow trees. Our instinctual intuition is an insturment that has to be well-tuned by practices of silence, stillness and listening. These habits ready us to see when the conductor lifts the baton. The whole process creates a sacred symphony of the Spirit which reverberates in the soul of the universe.


Crows at UW Bothell

God Waits in the Space Between: Silence As A Spiritual Practice

Wall of Words

Silence

I hear my rapid thought-fire
Ricochet off your heart,
Creating a wall of words to
Keep me safe.

Wait.
Wait for the space
Between the thoughts
Between the words.

Wait.
God lives
In the Space Between.

rhk

I spent the first quarter of my life entombed in a womb of words. A tomb, because I was only living on the surface; a womb, because I was still growing. Still. Gratefully, by the time computer technology advanced to the point of a 24/7 stream of words, I had begun a serious journey into the space between the words.

In those first twenty-five years, fear was my tomb and words my shield against perceived- and real- danger. Without space between the words to sustain me, I missed so much:

• The nuances of bird songs
• A loved one’s plea for comfort
• Justice framed in hostility
• So many gifts of insight offered and missed
• Awe, Joy, Love
• The voice of God

Gingerly, but intentionally, I inched out of my tomb and practiced listening. At the dinner table and in other gatherings, I consciously chose to stay quiet, and just watch people and listen. People began to see the deeper me, and their responses lessoned my fear, thus lessoning the need to protect with talk. Eventually silence became more of a habit, and I came to feel at home with it.

In the last quarter of my life I struggle more with how I respond to the avalanche of words coming at me from society, and my responses to it:

• The need to know everything about everything by reading and sharing constantly, both verbally and virtually.
PRACTICE: Choose to limit how many articles I read on one topic, and how much time I spend in analysis. Instead, I try to spend some of the time in quiet reflection on how the topic relates to me, and I pray about it, so it doesn’t remain just an intellectual exercise of my ego.

• Multitasking, particularly with mixed media
PRACTICE: I ask myself, why is the TV/radio on if I’m working on my tablet and not really listening? What good is my split attention doing me or others? When I am at ease with myself, I turn something off. When I still need the chatter, I give in. Hopefully I ask what my need was!

• Monologue vs. Dialogue
PRACTICE:  What did that person just say? I was busy thinking about my response. I chose to lose my chance to respond instead of losing the other’s contribution; instead of losing the emotion, the intuitive request lying between her words.

• An Overcrowded Calendar: Constant activity deprives us of the spaces between. If we are rarely still, we miss the voice of God.
PRACTICE : Prioritize. It helps me to open my calendar to “monthly view” before I make a commitment; to assess my needs first and weigh them alongside the invitation. Often, I need to call back, allowing time to consider the effects my “yes” may carry.

• “I’m late, I’m late, For a Very Important Date”: It is taking five seconds instead of two seconds to upload a website. The car in front of me is traveling at speed limit, and so am I.  But I have to pass it. The “old lady” in front of me in the grocery store line is taking forever. This “old lady” has no place to be, but she wishes the one in front of her would hurry up.
PRACTICE: Slow down. Ask myself why I need to hurry. The question is a choice to live consciously. If I choose to shrug off impatience, I make space for reflection. While I wait for the “old lady,” I can notice that she uses food stamps and I can pray for her. I develop the virtue of compassion; whereas, if I fret, my energy goes into the fretting … What good does it do either of us?

It is not just for the sake of our own growth that we must practice silence. It is now a countercultural activity. The common good dictates that we address injustice in society. Before the prophet speaks she/he waits in silence for the words of truth to come. And when they are born from a posture of silence, they “roll down like a river and… like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24 paraphrased)