"Anechoic" means "no echo." The room is designed to absorb sound. A typical quiet room in which you sleep at night would measure at around +30 decibels of sound. This chamber has been measured at -9 decibels.
This room is quiet. How quiet is it?
This room is so quiet that many people who spend time there find it very unnerving and cannot bear to spend more than a few minutes in the chamber. Some people even have reported having hallucinations or have had other psychosis-like experiences while within the room. The room is so quiet that people claim to have heard the blood flowing through their organs or air passing through their lungs.
I emailed the lab a couple of weeks ago requesting to visit. I told them that I am a Catholic priest and would like to spend some time in prayer in the chamber -- as a form of spiritual research. I am still hoping but have yet to hear back from them.
Whether I ever get to visit or not, the chamber simply confirms what our Catholic spiritual tradition has long since recognized. Spending time alone in quiet for many of us can be very uncomfortable. Take note of all of the noise with which we continually surround ourselves. How long can an average person spend alone in silence without feeling the urge to push a button or to flip a switch in order to placate our addiction to noise?
I read an article by a man who needed a little "spiritual medicine." So he decided to visit a monastery in Alaska. The impact of immersing himself in silence was for him "incredibly powerful." Yet, he claims, "It wasn't 'peaceful,' as some might expect. Rather, being on the Holy Mountain stung like a mustard plaster, acting as a healing poultice drawing out toxins. When it was time to leave, I felt as though I had been through an existential wringer."
Advent is the season of silence – but it's a silence that seeks to unsettle us before it can soothe us. It's not always easy, when we go to sacred silence, to listen to some of the toxins that rise up from the depth of our spirit, but we have to be still. Let the silence draw them out – and into the light of Christ.
Christmas must wait. Let Advent do its quiet healing work first. True peace to you all.