Ambience – The Hum and the Glow

Of or relating to the immediate surroundings of something: “ambient noise”.

Have you ever noticed the ambient noise in a completely “quiet” house? With the television off, music off, no one else home, what do you hear? There is a humming. There are appliances running, heating and cooling systems, water heaters, any number of things just whirring away, and really, when you focus on it, making quite a lot of noise. The hum.

As an only child and a latchkey kid for much of my childhood, I remember doing this frequently. Sitting in an empty house and just listening. My dad was a hobbyist and loved old clocks, the tick tock clock variety, with the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes. Our house is a split-level home, a ground level, a mid level a half a story up, then the upper level, a full story up. I remember sitting, often, on one of the stairs between the upper story and the middle level and just listening to all of the clocks ticking. A cacophony of ticking, like madness. Imagine the ruckus when all the chimes went off!

Last night, late, we had fairly high winds, and just before going to bed, the power went out. There are two things I love about power outages, lack of ambient noise and lack of ambient light. I relished lying in bed, in complete and total darkness and hearing only the wind in the tress outside. This spurred my thoughts on ambience, which rolled around in my head for the better part of the night, in the darkest dark as the wind whipped through the trees outside.

Having lived in a very remote country home, having backpacked in the wilderness extensively, again, there are things I adore about being far removed from civilization, temporarily; the sound of the wind, and nothing else and the darkness of the sky, except for the millions of stars. Have you ever been far enough away from the city to see the Milky Way in the sky? It is surprising how many people have never seen this wonder. Have you ever been out far enough in the countryside to be able to see the orange glow in the distance where the next town or city is located? This is light pollution from the ambient light of thousands of homes, cars, and businesses. The glow.

On a backpacking trek a few summers ago, I had the opportunity to tour a gold mine shaft with a group of people. One of the self-imposed limitations I have, and have made a concerted effort to overcome, is claustrophobia, or something like it. I fear being unable to escape, if my access to a clear exit path is blocked, I get a little panicky. Funny, isn’t it, that one of my major ruling assumptions is freedom, independence and autonomy? See any relationship there? I was in a narrow mine shaft with about a dozen or so other people, the guide, as she explained clearly beforehand, and I consented to, turned off her light and instructed us to turn off all of ours. We experienced a pitch-blackness so complete I can’t even begin to describe it, I could feel it more than see it, it was oppressive, it felt heavy, weighted. In this complete absence of any light, ambient or otherwise, we had to place our hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us and walk forward in an attempt to follow each other out of the mineshaft in total darkness. It was extremely disorienting, our balance was compromised completely and it was easy to become disconnected with the person in front of you, leaving you hopeless and helpless in the dark. It was impossible to successfully navigate towards the exit and to the relief of daylight. The guide then had us place our other hand out so we could feel the wall, still holding onto the shoulders of those ahead of us. With the assistance of the sometimes slimy wall, we were better able to balance and navigate our way back to light. I will never forget that darkness, that total absence of ambient light!

Isn’t it interesting how what we don’t really notice, ambient noise and ambient light, can actually be so significant in our lives?

An article in Scientific American summarizes a study performed by OSHA on the stress related hazards related to low-level ambient noise. Stress-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches could increase as a result of the measurable stress caused by ambient noise in the home and at the work place. Among other things, ambient noise has been associated with the release of cortisol, the hormone that is released in the body after a “bad experience”. The release of cortisol, at a minimum, can impact our ability to plan, reason and manage our impulse control.

A couple of years ago I read about a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute linking ambient light to increased risk for breast cancer. Other similar studies noted increased rates of ovarian cancer in women who worked night shifts, and so, were sleeping in daylight or in near daylight conditions. The studies hypothesized that our hormones (melatonin release) are linked to the natural patterns of light and dark in nature. When that natural pattern is disrupted with unnatural, ambient light, when it should be dark, our hormones don’t behave normally and this increases the risk of cancer.

Things that are ambient, that we really don’t normally pay attention to, can actually impact us in very major ways. Ambient light, ambient noise, ambient temperature all relate to our immediate surroundings, our environment. From this, comes the word ambience.

1. The character and atmosphere of a place.

To me, ambient light and ambient noise are subtle, unnoticeable and sometimes beyond our complete control. Unless we focus on them, we usually don’t even notice them. Ambience, on the other hand, I think of as being manipulated or contrived, something we are in complete or near complete control of, something we create, with intention.

The ambience of a restaurant is often referred to in its write up or in patron reviews. The ambience of a setting often dictates that expectation of our activity; a loud raucous bar with a group of friends out for a good time, a quiet, candlelit, corner table in a dark quiet bistro for a romantic evening.

I try to control ambient things, light and noise, to the degree I can for the benefit of my long-term health. I am, at the very least, more aware of ambient noise and ambient light and seek to mitigate their effects in my life. I also deliberately manipulate the ambience of my settings for a variety of reasons.

We’ve already touched on sleep and how ambient light can disrupt its benefits. The power of restorative sleep, absent of ambient noise and unnatural, ambient light, energizes, heals, and can actually restore youth by promoting the natural and beneficial release of HGH, human growth hormone. Creating an ambience for restful, restorative sleep can also help in your effort to evolve by increasing the healthful benefits of sleep that nature intended for us. I know, for me, I find that small sources of ambient noise and light disturb me. Perhaps more so having read up on the potential hazards associated with each of these. But if I am trying to drop off to sleep and I can hear the television downstairs, I find before long, that’s all I can hear. Like the cliché dripping faucet we see in movies, stories and cartoons! If my iPhone screen illuminates it is nearly blinding! Even the little flashing light on the front of my closed MacBook becomes a glaring beacon over the course of the night, enough to disrupt me from sleep. So, I seek to remove all of these things from my sleeping environment, I create an ambience for restful, restorative sleep.

I seek to control my ambience when dining; I make eating a special event, every meal. I set the table nicely and use nice dishes rather than the food packaging to serve my meals. I try to prepare meals that are pleasing not only to eat, but to look at as well. I am so proud of how my meals look, I actually take pictures of them for my food journal! I also tune out distractions while I eat and actually focus on my food and the simple pleasure of eating, the tastes and the textures of the food. I do not read or watch TV while eating, I avoid texting, working or social networking, and just focus on enjoying my food. Focusing on your food, on the act of eating, is proven to reduce the amount of food you consume. When you focus on what you eat, and enjoy the experience, you find satisfaction in a single portion rather than mindlessly eating two or three helpings. Distraction while dining is extremely detrimental to our diet.

Consider the ambience for sex; imagine a romantic room with a lovely bed, candles, flowers, music, chocolate would be nice, too, an inviting environment, rather than making do, so to speak, on a long unmade bed of mismatched sheets, with piles of dirty clothes all around and the dog watching from nearby. I read a fascinating and entertaining book last year, Veronica Monet’s “Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want”. She had a great deal to say about the ambience for good sex that made a great deal of good sense.

In our efforts to evolve, to improve ourselves, it is important to consider our surroundings, our setting, our ambience and what is ambient. We need to consider deliberately creating an ambience, or an environment, for self-improvement, self-development, and evolution. We need to find a way to sit in the silence, in the dark, figuratively, and think, without anything ambient to distract us. We need to tune out the ambient noise that influences our lives much like the sound of the highway a few blocks away influences our sleep. The hum. We need to remove ourselves from distractions in our lives, like we do flashing lights while we sleep. The glow.

In our lives, in order to truly find our purpose, our direction, ourselves, we need to find a way to tune out the hum and the glow, the ambient noise; people who influence us, the media, etc. We need to think independently, in the solitary, quiet ambience of our own being, what matters to us, what are our guiding principles, even if they differ from those of people close to us, what do we really believe as individuals? There is always noise around us; the opinions of others, the strong beliefs of those we love, that may, in fact, be different from what we truly believe if we could just be quiet long enough to think about it. Ambient noise. Ambient light are other influential distractions like the media, the press, the entertainment industry, news talk radio, the clergy, business, our employers even, academia. They are all suggesting not just verbally, but visually, how we should think, feel, vote, act. Stop. Tune it out, find a peaceful, comfortable ambience, away from the hum and the glow. Think about it, apply logic. How do YOU really feel when you are away from the hum and the glow? This is where you will find your guiding principles, these are your core values. Cherish them, honor them, live by them, but first, you must know them.

Become aware of the hum and the glow.

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