Hacking Silence: How To Recharge Without Running Away

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from. – Seth Godin

One of the easiest ways to feel totally relaxed is to sit in a quiet place.

But just how exactly do you find the right place?

In cities like New York and LA, noise is everywhere. Is there any escape?

The situation is much worse in developing cities like Bangkok and Saigon where noise pollution is rampant: car horns blare, sirens shriek, and construction work goes around the clock.

It’s no wonder that city-dwellers feel the need to get away from it all.

City noise can be so irritating that I often ask myself why I ever moved to the city in the first place.

Why We Live In Cities

We live in cities for 2 things: 1) more money and 2) more fun.

1. More Money

As civilizations grew and societies developed, more people started moving into big cities to take advantage of the economic opportunities there.

Throughout history, people have made the switch from rural to urban life to take advantage of opportunities like better jobs and higher salaries. More recently, they’re capitalizing on serendipitous encounters with like-minded business folk.

Go where the best people in your industry are. Just like the Mexican food in San Diego or manufacturing in China, industries are often geographically concentrated because they’re maximizing context.

I was talking to [an entrepreneur] a week ago who said he got 10x more done on his business living in Saigon than Paris. By optimizing his location to be around a community of entrepreneurs, he got 10x more done than he would have otherwise.

Want to do internet marketing? Go hang out with internet marketers.

2. More Fun

Business aside, living in a city is just plain FUN. Hanging out with old friends and making new ones, whether it be through Meetup groups that cater to our interests or a regular night out on the town, is something I genuinely love.

There’s no shortage of entertainment. Movies, music, sports – it’s all just one mouse-click and Uber ride away.

The problem

Moving to cities hasn’t gone smoothly. Despite all the benefits of city living, we’ve been slow to adapt to constant noise.

We are attuned to intermittent danger: the sight or sound of a big predator sends us into fight-or-flight mode. City noise has the same effect, and we’re overstimulated as a result.

In nature, background sounds like the rustling of leaves in the wind gently pull our attention, effectively lowering stress levels.

There is nothing gentle about loud car horns or subway trains.

Where nature’s gentle background music soothes, the sharp sounds of cities do the opposite: raise cortisol levels, making us more stressed and anxious.

When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. – Pope Benedict XVI

In fact, we’re more anxious and distracted than ever. The global ADHD therapeutics market is expected to grow to $10 billion by 2020. And it’s not just children; most of the growth will come from adult ADHD therapies.

With more than half of the world living in major urban areas (a percentage that goes up every year), the problem of noise pollution will get worse unless we find a way to deal with it effectively.

As our noise-driven anxiety slowly builds within, we turn to solutions that keep the noise out.

People are paying a premium for remote hotels, hush appliances, and quiet modes of transportation. It should come as no surprise that, as the volume has gone up, silence has become the ultimate luxury.

Silence, the Ultimate Luxury

As silence turns into a commodity, it’s easy to pay for it out of convenience. Less convenient (but no less difficult) is seeking out and experiencing silence where it already exists.

Where should we look?

Where to go to experience silence

Have you ever been so stressed you wanted nothing more than to just GET OUT? I have.

Silence, though pervasive, is often difficult to find.

When I need peace and quiet more than anything, here’s where I go:

  • Apartments & Hotels. Seems simple enough, but take the time to choose a place off the beaten path. One away from bus stops, train stations, roads, and construction. It’s worth the effort.
  • Parks and gardens. There’s no better caretaker than mother-nature. Most big cities have at least one park. Find it, bring a blanket and a book, and bathe in the sounds of nature. Livable cities like New York and Chicago have ample green space to relax and decompress.
  • Islands. Cities on water have the added potential of islands as a means of respite. While living in Budapest this past summer, I enjoyed visiting Margaret Sziget island to escape the city buzz.
  • Libraries. Open to the public, city libraries are safe enclaves for anyone seeking a little peace and quiet.
margetsziget island in budapest is a great place to find peace and quiet

Margetsziget Island on the Danube river is a quiet refuge in the heart of Budapest.

Less obvious places to experience silence

  • Isolation tanks. Pioneered in the 70s in Southern California, sensory deprivation tanks are making a comeback as city dwellers seek alternative ways to destimulate and decompress. Speaking from experience, just 90 minutes in one of these tanks has the same effect as weeks of vacation. Everyone should be doing it.
  • Rooftop pools. Many apartment buildings and hotels have public access to their pool areas. Order a drink or small snack and hang out for hours.
  • Religious buildings. Not a deeply religious person, I nevertheless can’t help but sit in awe of religious architecture. Ornate churches and mosques are beautiful to behold. Sitting for just 15 or 20 minutes in a Church calms my mind and helps me get perspective on the bigger picture.
  • Cemetaries. When a friend told me that she regularly walks and meditates in cemeteries, I was skeptical. After all, it was the burial place of the dead and who was I to be casually strolling through sacred ground. But after trying it out, my world opened. Now, whenever I’m in a new city I make a mental note to visit cemeteries. At once, they are both a source of quiet and opportunity for contemplation; it’s impossible to hide from our own mortality in the company of the deceased. [1][2][3]

Stepping out of the mad rush of life and onto the hushed burial grounds of the dead is like crossing a threshold between worlds. Secluded within these sanctuaries of resting souls, the pressing problems of life become muted to stillness. – Pythia Peay

The good news: peace, when we find it, is something that stays within us. The more we experience silence, the more comfortable the mind becomes without incessant stimulus.

Hopefully this list jogged your creative juices, helping you see some of the “less stimulating” areas of your city in a new light. Even so, it helps get out of the city from time to time.

Short vacations are fun way to explore your territory, appreciate nature, and come back to your city feeling happy and refreshed.

Vacations, though, are best enjoyed as an adventure, not an escape. When daily life is fulfilling enough as is, the concept of “vacation” loses its meaning and becomes something else entirely.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, connect with me @_danfries

Sources: