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Background Noise

Last night, Josh came home and I was wearing my japa mala beads. “Hard day?” he asked.

For those who don’t meditate, mala beads are used to help you focus on your mantra. This string is a Rudraksha mala with 108 beads and a red string that lets my finger know when I’ve said my mantra 108 times. Sort of like a rosary.

Last year, I switched the mantra I had since high school. I still love my old mantra and use it sometimes for certain situations. But one day, I woke up and decided I needed a new mantra and the mantra I should use instantly popped into my head and it felt as right as when I changed my blogging name to Lollipop Goldstein. Which is not to say that other mantras were not contenders (after all, I came this close to calling myself Popsicle Jones), but they were dismissed very quickly.

Yesterday evening, I was teaching the ChickieNob how to use the japa mala beads and gave her my old mantra to use. After we were done, I threw them around my neck for safe keeping rather than putting them back in their pouch, which is how I greeted Josh at the door. But yes, they did make me feel better to have them around my neck. It was a hard day.

My life has taken on a lot of general work-related chaos and deadlines. A to-do list that cannot be prioritized. And I finally understood why everything was getting under my skin and setting me on edge when Josh labeled all of it background noise. He was using the term to mean, “just ignore it and take it all in stride” but the fact is that I am not very good with background noise. I like a quiet space to work and think. When I can’t focus in one area of my life, it spills into being distracted everywhere else. It is all small things, quiet buzzing, but I am hearing this figurative background noise and my mind is literally everywhere at once.

Whereas Josh needs the background noise. If I am not home, he plays the television while reading his Twitter feed and doing a crossword puzzle. He plays music while he works and needs sound while he drives.

Perhaps I was subconsciously wearing the beads to try to keep all the figurative background noise at a lower hum until I can deal with it and take it off my plate. Return to the quiet house. I feel like I need my life to be quiet in order to have those definitive moments come–the ones that brought me my new mantra or blogging name. But what a chicken-and-egg since I can’t get the quiet until I clear my plate of the noise. And I can’t clear my plate of the noise until I can find some quiet.

Do you work best with background noise or in silence? And is it different for different situations? Do you need music to focus or do you work best in a quiet space?


1 Elizabeth { 05.19.09 at 6:31 am }

Love this thought-provoking post.
For me it depends – I need background noise if I have to be distracted from what I’m doing in order to get it done – the mundane chores of keeping house. But if it’s something that needs focus and attention (writing, most reading, an important conversation) then no.

2 Lollipop Goldstein { 05.19.09 at 6:34 am }

Oh! Then I should add that I like it quiet all the time–when I’m cleaning, when I’m driving, when I’m writing EXCEPT for when I’m baking in the winter and then I want Christmas music and only Christmas music. For some reason, I cannot concentrate on cooking at any other time of year with music playing, but I can in December with Christmas music…

3 loribeth { 05.19.09 at 7:15 am }

I am pretty good at shutting out the background noise. Most of the time. I work in a cubicle environment and usually manage to absorb myself in the newspaper while riding on a train full of yappy commuters. And I can sit & read on the couch with the TV on in the background. I grew up in a house where it was on all the time, so it's familiar background noise. On the other hand, dh has to go upstairs if I'm watching something & he wants to read, & the noise on the train drives him absolutely batty at times. I'm not saying noise doesn't bother or distract me at all, and I would probably be more productive if it were quieter, but I think I cope with it reasonably well.

4 Jennifer { 05.19.09 at 7:32 am }

Depends on what I am doing. If I am trying to just relax I like to have a soothing song on low on the radio. If I am trying to figure out how to do something I like it quiet. LOL That is just me tho. I love the post made me think πŸ™‚

5 battynurse { 05.19.09 at 7:32 am }

I usually do much better with background noise. I’ve gotten better at living with quiet but I prefer noise. Then I don’t hear scary noises. Which goes back to things my mom used to tell me as a kid. Yeah, I was afraid of the dark, being alone and just about everything else.

6 N { 05.19.09 at 7:41 am }

I’m like Josh, and it’s an aspect of my self-diagnosed ADD-ness. Occasionally it all builds up and is too much for me to take, but if there isn’t any kind of background noise at all, my brain goes wandering all kinds of places and I can’t concentrate in the least. This has caused interesting and sometimes not-so-fun situations, such as when I was driving around a roommate who had a migraine who was pissed that I wouldn’t turn OFF the radio (I turned it down) and I couldn’t make her understand that, without it, I might get in an accident.

Good times.

7 Jill { 05.19.09 at 7:42 am }

I grew up in a big family, so there was ALWAYS some sort of background noise. Normally, I find it unnerving to be in silence. Every once in a while, though, it all gets to me and I need to just sit in quiet.

8 cowboyboot lady { 05.19.09 at 8:02 am }

I need total silence for both work and definitely for sleep. If I hear the gutter dripping rain outside, I have to wear earplugs to get to sleep! Ridiculous, I know!

9 WiseGuy { 05.19.09 at 8:13 am }

Ooooh…I looked at the picture and then at the post…and I was like …Rudraksha? Here? Mel?

Wow! That’s s 108 beads coz, there are several mantras that are chanted that many times and hence rather than remembering the number, one just dunks a bead, and gets to the next! Wow!

I will answer this like this…I work well with both silence and noise…there are times when I desire complete silence…there are other times, when I would turn up the music, or TV and then work!

Depends on my mood!

10 Brenna { 05.19.09 at 8:15 am }

My husband is exactly like Josh and I’m exactly like you…which makes for an intersting situation when we’re sharing the home office during the times he’s not in DC! He prefers to have the XM radio on all day long, and if I need to edit something or write anything, I have to mute it for a bit. Somehow we get by, but we do have very different work/concentration needs. I can absolutely relate to your struggle with background noise as well, as it’s one I share. I strongly dislike having too many conflicting deadlines at once. Hope you find some quiet moments today!

11 Bean { 05.19.09 at 8:39 am }

Interesting post. I never really thought about it before, but I definitely like background noise. I always have the radio on in the car and I keep more music CDs in my office than I do at home. At home I usually just listen to the radio (mostly because I’m too lazy to hike downstairs to get a CD). Like Josh, I’ll have the TV on, even if I’m not really watching, just for the company. My husband likes noise too, but in a different way. He always has something playing, but he needs it to be very specific (classical or jazz) and he can’t tune out noise/music that he doesn’t enjoy, so he rarely listens to music on the radio.

12 infertilityrocks { 05.19.09 at 8:41 am }

First off, Josh is awesome, and he seems to know you so well.

I’m definitely a background noise kinda girl (I think it has to do with being an enormous extrovert along with growing up with a very loud and lively family as well). As I type this, my son is plunking on the piano, my dog is barking, and I have the radio blaring classic rock. Ahhhh, silence to my ears!

The only time I require silence is when I’m driving around lost.

13 Somewhat Ordinary { 05.19.09 at 9:00 am }

Oh, I constantly have noise. When I was a kid studying my parents philosophy was that it needed to be quiet for me to concentrate, but I did much better with some background noise. The only time I turn it off is when I’m having a difficult time with something. When I’m at work I always have music going and at home it is very rarely quite. If I don’t have music or the tv on I’m singing or talking. I have to consciously remind myself to turn stuff off so that my son isn’t always bombarded with noise.

14 JamieD { 05.19.09 at 9:04 am }

I agree with Infertility Rocks – Josh is very wise!

If I’m cleaning or baking, I always have the stereo on. I do love music, but if I need to concentrate there can’t be background noise. To be honest, if I am home alone the TV is never on so generic background noise is not me. I guess I can’t have just anything in the background – it has to be something I love or nothing at all.

Thinking back, that it totally not how I used to be. As a teenager I slept with the radio on and could read a book while wearing headphones. Maybe my problem is multi-tasking . . .

15 Cassandra { 05.19.09 at 9:09 am }

Literal background noise is fine. Mental background noise is bad.

16 areyoukiddingme { 05.19.09 at 9:32 am }

I agree with Cassandra! I can ignore literal background noise easily enough. Mental background noise is another story. My husband frequently asks me what I’m thinking about, and my usual response is “Nothing,” because I try to keep things in their own spaces where I will think about them when I need to. Otherwise, I’d be like him – so much noise in my brain that I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

17 Mrs. Gamgee { 05.19.09 at 10:00 am }

For most situations, I need background noise. Writing, cleaning, working, cooking, pretty much everything. The only time when background noise is an irritation is when I’m reading (as in, I’ve gone to be to read, and my Beloved decides he wants to watch tv in the bedroom). The background noise keeps me from losing myself in the story.

There are different kinds of noise that are ideal for different tasks… classical music when I’m writing, Pop/dance music when I’m cleaning, tv when I’m cooking.

18 Melissa { 05.19.09 at 11:14 am }

oh fun. I prefer quiet to do anything productive. I like to clean, cook, read, think all with no noise.

I am great at drowning out/ignoring noise though πŸ™‚ My Dh & daughter were watching Dora this morning and I was catching up on blogs and he was trying to have a serious conversation about the show and I had no idea what he was talking about. plus i didn't realize that he was talking to me until he was about two minutes into the conversation


what is your mantra? Or is that top secret?

19 Artblog { 05.19.09 at 11:57 am }

Just the radio on, nothing else and it helps if there are no wind chimes or ticking clocks in the vicinity πŸ˜‰

20 Deathstar { 05.19.09 at 12:24 pm }

Depends on the time of day. In the morning I like quiet. I used to put on the radio first thing, but now I enjoy the quiet and read or write or whatever. I really don’t want to talk to anyone. During the rest of the day, the TV is on for background noise, otherwise it would be construction noises which I hate but are an ever present sound in the city. If I really hate doing a task, like taxes or cleaning out the closet, I put on high energy music.

21 Lori { 05.19.09 at 12:57 pm }

I have a set of japa mala beads, too. I used them to draw a spirit to me before Reed was born, and I’ve tried in vain to find the mantra for that to share with others.

Anyhoo, I like to have music when I work creatively. But it has to be the right music. I have a whole playlist full of mellow songs I love. Nothing with too much of a beat, or I’d have to get up and dance!

(Garden of Gethsemane is on it.)

22 Sunny { 05.19.09 at 1:39 pm }

Like for many others, it depends on the situation. I like music (or TV) when I am doing something that doesn’t require creativity or intense focus, like cooking or cleaning or surfing the internet.

But if I’m writing a blog post or trying to concentrate on a book, I prefer quiet.

23 Barb { 05.19.09 at 2:43 pm }

Oh my gosh! Hub and I are EXACTLY THE SAME AS YOU GUYS. I need quiet and reflection and order. Hub needs background noise and 6 things at once. He never feels overwhelmed, while it happens to me frequently. He often is on the computer, drawing and watching TV all at the same time. I do NOT understand it.

24 farmerswife06 { 05.19.09 at 3:03 pm }

Every once in awhile I need the quiet. But most of the time I NEED some sort of noise. I get very lonely when I’m home alone and DH isn’t around so I play the radio or tv and I talk to the cat continulously. But it works. It beats talking to myself!!! Oh I can’t drive if I don’t have the radio on. Its quite sad

25 LJ { 05.19.09 at 3:42 pm }

I don’t think I know how to NOT multitask. I know I drive Mr. Badger nuts with my constant moving. I have SLOWLY learned to quiet myself sometimes…not often though.

26 VA Blondie { 05.19.09 at 5:52 pm }

I like background noise in certain situations, and silence in others. I think it depends on the mental demands of the task. At work, many of the team members I work with like music, so I have learned to work with music in the background. And honestly, I think it makes people feel better. If I am writing or studying or reading, I usually like quiet. I prefer being able to concentrate in that situation. Sometimes I just want quiet. Silence can be very refreshing.

27 jenn { 05.19.09 at 5:56 pm }

I wrok better with noise. When I was forst on my own in college I thought that the quiet would be the best thing since sliced bread. ( I have a big family. Eight of us grew up in one house.) But; I was wrong. I can not function with out background noise. There is always a radio or tv on around me.

Hope you get enough quiet to be able to clear your plate soon!

28 The Steadfast Warrior { 05.19.09 at 6:49 pm }

I like background noise and love listening to music while at work. My dh likes listening to light instrumental while he works because he can’t focus if it’s too driving or there are words. But I on the otherhand, LOVE music with a great beat and good lyrics. It gives me energy, especially in the morning.

When I paint, though, it depends on my mood.

29 Fertilized { 05.19.09 at 8:01 pm }

Another Great post, My friend.

For me, It depends on the situation. Background noise can help me focus at times when other times, it causes more frustration. I hope that the background noise settles to quiet for you soon

30 tj { 05.19.09 at 10:26 pm }

Well, I guess it’s where I am at any given moment in life. When I can’t deal with my own thoughts then I need the noise and crave it to keep out of my own head. Other times, when I’m at peace, the natural sounds of the world appeal to me – that ethereal silence.

31 Trish { 05.20.09 at 12:03 am }

Background noise 99% of the time.
Though, for whatever reason, the 3 months that Robbie spent in the NICU- I couldn’t stand it.
I don’t know if I got so used to the quiet of the NICU or what. But the TV even turned down would grate on my nerves. Radio in the car? I’d miss my turn.

Maybe I was just using so much focus staying sane, I didn’t have anything left.

32 Smiling { 05.20.09 at 4:48 am }

music music music and then more background noise

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