Sound vs. Noise

Something really surprising happened as I was pulling some dinner together earlier this week.  One of our daughters is back at home with us for a while and she did something she used to do almost every day when she was younger – sat down and played the piano.  This sound was heard regularly when my kids were growing up and it was most present in the late afternoon and early evening.  What struck me this time was an overwhelming awareness of how much I missed hearing it.  I didn’t realize this sensory void existed until I heard the beautiful sound of music being played by one of my kids.  I even said to myself, “Oh my god, there it is” and got a bit teary-eyed while I was at it.

Since then I have been thinking about the power of sound in our lives.  All of us can probably think about certain sounds from our childhood that take us back to a specific time in our lives.  The feelings and emotions associated with it become palpable to us once again, as if we have been transported.  My sister, who lives in Washington State, often remarks when she comes back to the Midwest how much she misses hearing mourning doves, and trains in the distance.  These sounds were a part of the landscape of our lives as we grew up in Michigan. She didn’t realize how much a part of her auditory experience they were until they were gone. (And since she shared this with me I am more consistently aware of trains and mourning doves!)

‘Noise’ and ‘sound’ mean very different things to me.  There is typically a negative association with ‘noise’ – traffic noise, loud conversational noise, etc.  However, many of us invite noise into our lives on a daily basis.  How often do you turn on a TV for “some background noise” when you are home alone?  Or walk down the street with your ear buds firmly imbedded, listening to music that is loud enough to drown out anything else?  How much time do we spend listening to the stories being told by that noisy voice in our own mind? Noise like this doesn’t allow space for us to notice the beautiful, interesting sounds occurring all around us. Sound on the other hand, can provide a vibrational texture to every moment, if we are listening.

How do you position yourself to hear the sounds occurring all around you each day in a way that enhances your own experience? There are those who practice training their attention through meditation or yoga. If you don’t have an intentional practice, perhaps it would be interesting to simply do something that dials down the noise a bit and see what sounds find their way into your conscious awareness.  For me, I want to consistently work to build my ‘noticing muscle’ – I sure as heck don’t want to miss something important!


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