Our Noisy World

     One day my sister came over to visit me. We sat out on the screened back porch on a beautiful spring day. As we were visiting, I watched my happy, chilled sister move into an agitated, unhappy individual. No, it wasn't the conversation. It was the noise of a leaf blower coming from a few houses down. I must say I was surprised that I didn't join her in her angst but for some reason that day, the noise wasn't bothering me.
     The fact is we live in a noisy world - airplanes, cars, motorcycles, leaf blowers, hair dryers, hand dryers, people talking on their cell phone, construction noise…the list is endless. What does that mean to us?
     James D’Angelo observes in The Healing Power of the Human Voice: “We can choose to turn off a radio but not to stop the sound of traffic on the high street. The sounds of our world have their own quality and their absorption into our bodies, minds, and spirits will produce either positive or negative effects which are often not detected.”
     I believe most of us are aware of the effect of loud noise on our hearing.  But what about the effects we aren't aware of. The brain regulates our internal system through homeostasis. Homeostasis is the internal balance of a system and for humans the balance of this system is essential to good health. Homeostasis stabilizes our internal environment, including our blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels and temperature.
     When we are assaulted by loud noise, our internal balance, homeostasis, is disrupted and even without our awareness, our body responds. These responses can include changes in our blood pressure, release of stress hormones, adrenalin, moving us into fight or flight. The activation of fight–flight and defeat reactions is thought to involve subcortical regions of the brain like the hypothalamus, which has inputs to the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and the limbic system.
     So noise can throw us completely out of balance physiologically. When we don't return to baseline balance, we can suppress our immune system and create the beginnings of disease.  When noise disrupts our sleep cycle it has profound effects on our health. And as we age, our ability to restore homeostasis becomes even more difficult.
     What about our emotional response to a sound. Everyone responds differently to noise. One person’s symphony may be another person’s cacophony. Emotional responses can be based on factors such as  memory association, neurological conditions, or our current emotional state. For instance, the opening story about a leaf blowing irritating my sister but not myself on that particular day. Some days a leaf blower can drive me mad.
     Our world will continue to be noisy and perhaps get even noisier. I have been going to a retreat center in the north Georgia mountains for about 11 years. I record a lot of nature sounds there and 2 years ago, realized that it is now in a flight path. The sound of planes is prevalent and I must say, it saddens me greatly. Noise is also disruptive to animals in our natural environments, both on land and in our oceans, as many of them communicate with sound.
     There is a discipline today called archaeoacoustics. Acoustic ecologists have begun archiving sounds of nature. Instead of images, they collect sounds “caught in the brief intervals of modern life before the cacophony of airplanes and jets, air conditioners and automobiles, music machines and gardening equipment kicks in.” Jeff Rice, a librarian at the University of Utah, is often up and recording a soundscape in the early morning hours, such as a moose stomping across a stream in Utah or the crickets in Range Creek, all helping to preserve an aural understanding of the world from an archaeological perspective.
     So how do we deal with our noisy world? We can incorporate noise in a positive way. Jonathan Goldman, a sound healer,  describes doing a workshop on sound healing and the room where the event took place had a loud hum from the electrical system. He describes the initial frustration caused by it and how he decided to use that frequency in a toning exercise rather than being irritated by it. This is certainly an example of making the best of a noisy world.
     Awareness is the beginning. Awareness of sounds can change how we deal with them so that we can minimize negative responses. Realizing that loud or sudden noises create imbalance allows us the opportunity to consciously return to our baseline. We can do deep breathing, listen to some peaceful music if possible, chant or tone a soothing syllable. Basically, giving ourselves a moment to acknowledge and recover on a physiological as well as psychological level.
     I have chosen on more than one occasion to remove myself from a location because of noise. As I have become aware of how I am being affected by my sound environment, my choices change and when I cannot remove myself, or a sudden explosion of noise occurs, I make sure I allow myself the chance to acknowledge its effect and create some space to bring myself back into balance.
     Eventually I will hear my neighbor's leaf blower again. Beyond wondering whatever happened to rakes, I know that I will have some choices to make about its effect on my happiness. It is that awareness that can help grant us all some peace of mind and body in our noisy world.