The Calming Effect of Distance

Faint sounds in the distance. Whispers? Dogs barking? Animals rustling through the underbrush? Birds shuffling through leaves of the trees, far enough above me to be invisible? If I devote my attention to sounds too distant or indistinct to hear clearly, my mind clears of the troubling and mundane, focusing instead on the occasional beauty of noise.

~ John Swinburn ~

Eight years ago yesterday, I wrote the sentences above. I posted that paragraph, without explanation, in my blog. Here.

Eight years later, I recall writing the post. I recall my frame of mind. I remember how I was able to find peace, albeit briefly, by focusing on sounds; unintelligible noise. Maybe that is what I need, now. Perhaps I should find a place where I can listen, intently, to noise too distant and too indistinct to be meaningful. With just enough volume to drown out the world, but not enough to do permanent damage to my ears or my psyche. Eight years ago, I think there was something mystical about the thoughts behind that post. Today, I think the mystery has been worn away by experience; today, mystery has been replaced by practicality. It amounts to preserving one’s sanity by filtering out the “bad,” deliberate, angry noise and replacing it with comforting, instinctive, joyous noise.


Memories: sharp or blunt. Heavy or weightless. Dark or brightly lit. Merciful or vindictive. Yes, vindictive. Those are the sharp, heavy, dark memories with sufficient emotional weaponry to do massive damage to one’s mental well-being; and they have the motives to carry out the carnage. There must be a name for those memories. Psychologists must have identified them and named them. But I have neither the patience nor the toughness of spirit necessary to look for the name and its genesis. So I’ll just satisfy myself with the belief that I am not sitting alone in the universe; alone with unnamed vindictive memories that want to tear me apart.

The ferocity of memories has no relationship to the “size” of the memory. An instance as fleeting as a sideways glance can produce a much larger than life recollection, a memory that seems to find nourishment in simply “showing up.” These malignant memories grow more and more intent on filling one’s head until, one day, they accomplish with a flash of insignificant memory what should require a year’s worth of experience. And the context of memory—whether memorable or not—has no bearing on its power.

The thing is, vindictive memories only come when they are deserved. Other damaging memories can simply stumble through the wrong door. Vindictive memories are stalkers. They watch every door and every window, choosing the weakest and least visible to the outside world as the point of entry. They pry open windows and pick the locks in doors. Once they are inside and the point of entry has been sealed, getting them to leave may require removal of the host.


This morning, I clicked on the link to FoxNews, as I do from time to time to keep up with the right-wing fringe. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was quoted as warning potential looters that “We’re a Second Amendment State,” inviting his citizens to kill people who, days after the storm has passed, may be desperate for food or water.  I am not a proponent of looting; far from it—I’m sometimes in favor of inflicting some corporal punishment on thieves— but I do not support the idea of killing people for property crimes. Or, for that matter, even suggesting the idea has legitimacy or merit.

Okay, so the FoxNews website is chock-full of pure propaganda, masquerading as news. Only an idiot would be blind to the obvious bigotry and bias demonstrated by FoxNews. I feel the same about CNN. It is so obviously biased in the other direction that it’s almost embarrassing to view the company’s website. But the people who believe CNN‘s left-slanted news are equally as idiotic. Wait, though. I feel confident some of my friends, who buy the propaganda fed through CNN’s newsfeed, are not idiots; not in the least. They are thoughtful, intelligent people. Which leads me to wonder: is it possible that my instant judgment of FoxNews viewers  is premature? Should I wait to judge them until I have a conversation with them? Yes. If I were a better person, I would insist on it. But I’ll have to work on that major personality flaw. Later. After the others. And that may take an eon or two.


A while ago, I thought and wrote about the calming effects of sounds. Since then, I’ve wondered how much of an impact distance has on the effects of sounds. I’ve concluded that distance, or the illusion of distance, is crucial to the effectiveness of noise to be calming. Nearby noises, or noises that mimic nearby sounds, are irritating. Distant, indistinguishable sounds tend to be soothing. That’s just me, though. I think distance and distant sounds both can be soothing, calming, relaxing. The distance of the open road is a soothing distance. The sounds of tires rolling over pavement is a hypnotic noise.  I’ll mull on that for a while.


It’s 6:23 and I’ve been up since a few minutes past 4. I’m sleepy. And tired. But I’m up for the day. Yet, maybe I’ll try to rest for a bit…

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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