What Quiet Reveals

Sometimes, early in the morning before the city wakes up, lying in bed, I hear the silence like the pause between breaths. And in that silence, I hear a train.

I hear the squeal of the wheels on the track, sometimes the singing of the brakes. Sometimes I hear the long, drawn-out whistle that tells me this is a freight train or a passenger train and not a subway. On really quiet mornings, I can hear the clickety-clack.

Being able to hear this train confuses me. My apartment lies in a dead-zone for trains. The subway, the LIRR, MetroNorth, Amtrak do not run under or past my building. Although Grand Central is just a few blocks away, those trains come in from the opposite direction and deep under the ground, running under Park Avenue until above 96th Street.

Sometimes when I’ve taken Amtrak down from Boston, I’ve looked out the window and realized that we’re passing through Queens – which is on the other side of the East River, just 3 blocks East of my home. Why Amtrak sometimes runs through Queens is a question beyond my ken. The Amtrak terminal is Southwest of Queens, on the other side of Manhattan, more easily connected to the tracks that run above ground along the Hudson along the Western shore of Manhattan; or to New Jersey. Is it this Queens route that I hear between three and four a.m.?

After four a.m., the sound of the train is replaced by the sounds of the city waking up. The spray from the street cleaner, the swish of tires on the streets outside my window. The thrum of a helicopter hovering above. The clatter of gates opening. Sirens from a nearby firehouse. The sound of water rushing through the pipes in my building. The ding and thud as the paperboy leans out the elevator door and flings my neighbor’s morning paper down the hall in the vague direction of her door.

We spend so much time, as humans, lost in the noise of doing that we don’t create silence in which to listen to our thoughts. We fill our days with activity, things we feel we must do, meetings we must participate in, worries about things we can’t control, that we don’t spend time reflecting. Sometimes I catch myself using the time set aside to reflect, doing instead: catching up on all the little things that I haven’t had time to do; fussing about situations outside my control; or turning my half-formed reflections into something performative.

Instead of pausing in the silence, letting active thinking flow away, and noticing the reflection of the thoughts that are usually drowned out by all the noise.

What are those thoughts?

Where are they coming from?

What are they telling me?

Do I need to do something with them? Will they lead me someplace different?

Or do I just need to hold them and recognize them, let them be,

The way that I lie quietly and listen to the sounds of the train that I usually can’t hear?

When I am able to truly let this happen, truly rest in the pause between taking in and letting out, something important happens. Something that takes me in a different direction. A path opens up before me and allows me to create something new. And then my best work happens.

Now don’t get me wrong: in may day job, I am not an artist, wielding creativity like a paintbrush in broad strokes, plucking artistry from the air, whipping up confections of design or content, glissading my way through twilight colors, letting impulse move me.

I am a Manager, someone who streamlines, who takes complex things and makes them simple so people can take action and get results. I am structure and process. I talk about objectives and measurables, risks and blockers. I organize things.

But even those of us who are not “Creatives” need quiet for reflection to listen to the whispers of our inner voice.

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