Except for seeing the Harlem Globetrotters when I was a kid (and I’m not sure that counts), I have only been to one professional basketball game in my life. I have, on the other hand, never missed a home game of my daughter’s basketball team.
Here’s what I noticed. In the professional game, when a player from the visiting team was making foul shots, lights were flashing throughout the stadium instructing the fans to boo, and making a pandemonium to try to distract the player from being able to concentrate. When my daughter’s team plays, on the other hand, they know that there is no sportsmanship in trying to throw people off their game, and so when a player from either team is making foul shots, there is dead silence.
We all know that noise is a distraction. Casinos overload you with noise and lights to distract you from the fact that you are losing money. Noise is manipulative. Stores pipe in music to evoke specific emotions targeted to affect and alter your shopping choices. When the noise is negative (as most noise is these days) it is far more destructive than being distracting or manipulative; it blocks us from hearing the positive – thereby distorting our reality and stunting our potential.
The first word of this week’s Torah portion, “Vayikra,” literally means, “And He called …” Who as the caller? God. Who was the listener? Moses. What was going on? God was talking to Moses about the procedures for offering the various sacrifices in the Tabernacle. Moses wasn’t having a private audience with God, however. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, points out that other people were standing around, and so how was it that no one else was able to hear the voice of God? Or at least, eavesdrop?
Despite their physical proximity, they simply weren’t spiritually attuned to “God’s frequency”, and so only Moses was able to hear God’s instructions. Apologizing for the analogy, Rabbi Pinchas Winston compared it to a dog whistle. While the sound waves emitted from a dog whistle land on a human eardrum, unlike a dog, the human ear is not attuned to make sense of that frequency.
There is no shame in not being able to hear a dog whistle; after all, we are not meant to hear it. Being able to “hear” the message of godliness, on the other hand, is our very spiritual mission. “Shema Yisroel – Hear O’ Israel,” is the Jewish mantra; hence, our spiritual eardrums are designed to pick up God’s signal.
There is so much “noise everywhere, however, so much distortion and interference, that it’s hard to pick up a clear signal. What can we do about it?
Let’s start on a practical level and look at “noise reduction” in our lives. One of my favorite go-to books is “Before Happiness”, which is a fantastic instruction manual for creating positive reality based on cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources. Shawn Achor discusses how noise is more than just a mere distortion, in that it blocks out the very signals that can point us towards positive growth.
To reduce noise, we need to do three things:
1. Stop Our Addiction to Noise.
To hear the voice of God, you have to turn down the volume of the world.
The world is a huge noisemaker. It throws billions and billions of bits of information at us per second. While our senses can receive a lot of that data, our conscious brains can only process about 40 bits per second. Out of myriads of possibility, we choose which infinitesimal slice of data we wish to perceive, from which we construct our versions of reality. Says Achor,
We can choose either to hear negative, flawed, or irrelevant information or to absorb information that will help us to accomplish our goals. But because the amount we hear is limited, there is a trade-off; the more negative information we take in, the less positive signal we can hear, and vice versa.
We only have a narrow bandwidth with which to work. When we listen to gossip and negative judgments, when we glue ourselves to the nightly news, or obsessively check our emails, Facebook, etc., we are using up and cluttering that tiny little bandwidth of reality. If we can only utilize 40 bits per second, what do we want to use them for?
The good news is that studies in positive psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated that even a 5 percent reduction in noise significantly improves our chances of picking up positive signals. I suggest you give some thought, if not on eliminating the noise pollution in your life, then on reducing it by 5 percent. Think about your external environment, what you watch and listen to, what you read, who you hang out with, where you go, the conversations you take part in, as well as the conversations you have with yourself in your head. It can make a considerable difference.
2. Cancel The Internal Noise.
It’s not just the noise that’s “out there”. Have you listened to your thoughts lately? You know that “voice”, the one that wears you down with its constant pessimism, self-doubt, and negativity.
It’s even more harmful than external noise because we don’t evaluate or challenge its validity and the effect of this voice is that it kills our positive potential. And so it undermines our very reason for being. We all know about the self-fulfilling prophesy. Words create worlds. They have the power to create or destroy us and those around us.
Learning strategies for reducing this internal noise, therefore, is critically important and will result in huge payoffs in all areas of your life. Try replacing patterns of negative thinking with these three thoughts:
1. I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.
2. I will not ruin ten thousand days to be right on a handful.
3. I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.
3. Recognize The Signal.
“Signal is information that is true and reliable and alerts you to the opportunities, possibilities, and resources that will help you reach your fullest potential.”
How can we hear the voice of godliness today, which is trying to help us reach our spiritual potential? There was a famous incident when Elijah the Prophet encountered an angel in the desert. All of a sudden, a powerful wind shattered the mountains, but the angel said, “God is not in the wind.” Then there was an earthquake, and the angel said, “God is not in the earthquake.” Then there was a fire, and again, the angel said, “God is not in the fire.” What emerged after the fire, however, was a still, thin sound.
The echo of God’s voice that the world into existence, that spoke at Mt. Sinai and which spoke to Moses, reverberates to this day. And that is where God is to be found – if we can hear it.
Anger disconnects people, and so they yell to be heard “over the distance”. Love, on the other hand, brings us close, so close that the barest whisper is loud enough for us to hear the words of our beloved. The “small thin sound” then, is all around us, and even within us.
Learn to distinguish between “noise” and “signal”. Understand that destructive noise spotlights the negative, obfuscates the positive, and kills your potential. Stop the noise, at least by 5 percent. Choose your inner thoughts. Quiet your brain and your soul. Be present and open to the miracle embedded in every single moment. “And He called” means that God called and is still calling us. It’s up to us to tune into the signal and to listen.