Hit the mute button and listen to the birds singing outside — Mute Button, from the chapbook Bus Station Sparrows by John-Michael Albert, eighth poet laureate of Portsmouth, NH
How do most people in our culture spend their days? We listen to music, or podcasts, or the news while we’re getting ready in the morning. We listen to the radio or music, or podcasts, or the news while driving, or we talk on the phone. If it’s a really long drive we might listen to an audiobook or a talk. Other people’s thoughts and agendas flash at us throughout the day — commercials on TV and the radio, ads that littler the online landscape, ads on the back of grocery store receipts, texts coming over our phone, social media posts that announce friends’ rants, adventures and mundane details of their lives. Cell phones make us accessible as long as we’re in range of a cell tower, which is increasingly pretty much everywhere. We spend our evenings in front of computer, device or TV screen. Some people take their phones to bed with them, or sleep with the TV on. (One friend who does this has dreams filled with CNN stories.) We. Are. Bombarded.
How do you know that your thoughts are really your thoughts? That your emotions are really your emotions? That your reactions and desires and impulses are really your own?
Here’s a solution: Hit the mute button and go outside and listen to the birds singing.
Let’s break that idea down.
1. Hit the mute button. Deliberately and periodically separate yourself from stimulation. Carve out pockets of quiet. Check email every once in a while, rather than leaving the program open constantly when you’re working at your computer or on a device. Even better: Get up from your computer. Put down your device. Don’t answer the phone or have the TV or a stream on while you’re fixing meals. Try driving without talking on the phone or listening to the radio, a stream or even music. Let your thoughts unfold in your own head. Once when I did this during a long commute I was amazed to watch my rambling hone in on one thought and crystallize into the outline for a book.
This can be scary. Some people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts. I knew one person who filled his evenings and weekends with activities because he was so uncomfortable with his own self. It’s worth acknowledging that a fear like that could be rolling around inside you.
So hit the mute button. Taste quiet. Savor it. Immerse yourself in it. Become addicted to it. Then go beyond quiet to emptying yourself out. Make a point to drain yourself periodically. Find a technique that works for you and that you will actually use. Don’t sit and battle with quieting your thoughts. That is counterproductive. What’s important here is releasing energy and emptying yourself of anything that is Not You. This goes for the chatter of advertising to what the people in your life are telling you to do. Only then will you have a direct line to your own thoughts, your own beliefs, your own desires, your own Truth.
Real life example of how simple this can be: I received an offer that made a lot of logical sense for me to accept. I wasn’t clear on what to do, though, so I did a quick visualization of going into my private sanctuary to let the answer come. When I got there, instead of being intact and private as it was the last time I visited it, it was filled with people. I said, “Everybody out!” The instant the final person walked out, my response fell into my head: I didn’t want to take the offer.
Create a mute button that works for you and use it.
2. Go outside. Spend time in nature. Watch the sun set. Pay attention to changes in the leaves and the behavior of animals around you. Walk. Sit. Just take it in. Being in nature has restorative powers that poets and writers have been praising for centuries. It is a subliminal and revitalizing reminder that we are part of the natural order.
3. Listen to the birds singing. Be receptive, rather than active when you are out in nature. Listen to sounds that do not come from human intellect. Listen to natural forces. They will give you information about your environment. They may give you information about yourself. And they will, as you accustom your ear to their language, give you insight into the workings of all life.
Hit the mute button and go outside and listen to the birds singing. Forget your obligations; forget how crowded your calendar is and just do it. It has the power to reconnect you with your self. And what, in the scheme of things, is more important than that?