Screaming rock or rap music, jackhammers, car horns, ringing cell phones, crying babies–there’s no ignoring the pervasive noise in our chaotic culture, the modern equivalent of medieval torture, only worse, because there’s no escaping it! It would be different if it was like a train whistle in the night that we’ve long since became inured to. But modern noises are assaultive in their sudden, jarring burst upon our senses. When you hear tires screech, a co-worker yell across the room, or your teen’s bedroom walls vibrating from the decibels emanating from inside, don’t you long to fly away to a warm, quiet, lush, soothing tropical island? And car alarms! They don’t work anyway; there should be a law banning them. They’re enough to make us call the realtor and pack that night! Is there no hiding place from the din? No refuge from the chaotic thrum and pulse of daily life? The world’s noise level is ratcheting up along with the temperature. Call it Global Deafening. Help!
Actually, there is help. It’s called a serenity room, and these rooms are becoming very popular, especially now that the number of empty nesters is on the rise, and boomers have the house more or less to ourselves, at least until the ‘boomerrangers’ arrive. Here’s the idea:
Find a spare room–empty bedroom, walk-in closet, furnace room or bathroom if need be, and turn it into your serenity room. Darken the walls. Furnish the place with very little–a stand for candles, a small stereo, floor pillows. Heavy shades will enhance the mood. Install a lock on the door. Better yet, make the room off limits to anyone under the age of thirty, or shorter than three feet. Make that four feet. And no pets, either. One suggestion, unless cost is a factor, is an actual contracted remodeling. Look in the Yellow Pages or Online under quiet rooms, in-home theater construction or meditation rooms and peruse all the offerings. There are elaborate window shades, a product called QuietRock that is, drywall fabricated specifically for sound deadening applications. There are indirect, or mood lighting resources, even lighting that enhances the amount and kind of light if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, in addition to noise pollution. . The same affect in reducing outside noise may be achieved by hanging blankets on the walls, and that may be a novel solution for couples. The wall hangings can be an art project, or a garage sale/antique store/self-spoiling expedition.
How to use your serenity room? Take an hour per week, or day, or whatever time you decide, and go there. Light the candles. Draw the shades. Put on acappella chant, Tim Janis, Enya, or Secret Garden on the stereo. Stretch out together on the pillows, and just listen to each other breathe. Relax. Enjoy. If this isn’t part of everyone’s mental health regimen yet it soon will be, as people discover the value of this priceless ‘sensory deprivation’. The biggest obstacle you’ll find in the beginning is allowing yourself the luxury of ignoring all the ‘have to’s’, ‘should be’s’ and general restlessness that causes you to need the room in the first place. But it’s noise that’s the primary concern.
Noise isn’t just a problem for our psychological well being, either. Your serenity room may double as a physical health room, as well. Research shows a strong link between excessive noise and heart disease. According to research by the World Health Organization, thousands of people around the world are dying prematurely from heart disease triggered by long-term exposure to excessive noise. For instance, it’s estimated that heart disease caused 101,000 deaths in the UK in 2006, and the study suggests that 3,030 of these are caused by chronic noise exposure, including daytime traffic. It could well be in the interest of your health to make a serenity room.
Here’s another reason to make a serenity room. Noise induced hearing loss. This is a permanent hearing impairment resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. Almost 15% Americans have a hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech*. And excessive noise exposure is the most common cause of hearing loss. Twenty-five percent of the work force in the United States is regularly exposed to potentially damaging noise.
Once you have your serenity room, you’ll need to establish rituals for its use. This shouldn’t be another ‘should’ in your life, but a soothing habit, kind of like settling into the easy chair after work with your slippers, the newspaper, and a glass of Gewurtztraminer. In other words, another ritual that reinforces the way you escape from the demands of your day, only a bit different, and a bit novel. Be the first in your neighborhood.
Here are a few suggested rituals to get you started in your serenity room:
Your favorite new age or classical music–Tim Janis, Enya, Secret Garden. Incense and/or candles. (Please don’t burn the house down, fire trucks are really noisy!) Set aside a certain time every day, or as needed. No need to actively meditate, although you may find it unavoidable after a short time, and that’s okay. One small detail that you may wish to incorporate is a copy of Desiderata©***, the Max Ehrmann poem popular in the ’60s that says, in part, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” If there was ever a time this little poem is needed it’s now. Taking turns reading it may be a good way to start your session every time.
Speaking of taking turns, and using the serenity room as a couple, this is a primary reason for making one. Too many couples relinquish their relationship to the various noises of their lives: jobs; kids; ‘shoulds’; appointments and necessities with other couples. One of the tenets of the caffection model is a new focus on couples, and ways to celebrate the primary relationship.
Do the serenity room ritual more than three times in a row, and you’ll make it part of your sanity routine forever, guaranteed.
Finally, there’s too much outside noise–of all kinds–including all the above, plus one very important kind of interference, the sound of your spouse’s voice, and how it gets drowned out in the din. This is not good. Especially for men who have a higher incidence of hearing loss than women, the serenity room can greatly assist your relationship. The serenity room can easily become the place you retreat to when things are too hectic to be true, the kids are driving you nuts, the bills are screaming to be paid, and you’ve neglected the one person whose voice calms you more than any other. And the best part of all is that, once you have the serenity room created, the resulting peace and comfort you’ll derive is free! Your serenity room will quickly become your shared, private, (silent) hiding place. Shhhh!
*NIDCD National Institute on Deafness & other Communications Disorders
**(Suter and von Gierke,1987)
***Desiderata©1927 max ehrmann