I grew up in a city deemed the most densely populated in the United States in the 1950s. There were approximately 35,000 people in less than one square mile. It was, and still is, a place of crammed-in triple-deckers and old houses, broken into small apartments.
Quiet was a commodity which was hard to come by. Traffic, sirens and the constant tread of heavy feet on creaky stairs punctuated every hour of the day. As children, we played and screamed in the streets. Small congested apartments did not provide the space for intimate conversations. With the noise came a certain blunt insensitivity in human interactions.
Today I see poor urban youngsters on the train. They live in similar circumstances to those of my early life. I understand their raucousness with a certain amount of painful empathy. I watch the quiet ones, hiding behind their smart phones and insulated by their headphones. I remember sitting in their place as well.
I have become an avid appreciator of simple quiet. It is different from silence. In my house, I can hear various neighborhood sounds in the distance. They are muted by insulation and double-paned glass. They form a background to the quiet of my own space. In that quiet, I can communicate with my own thoughts without distraction. In that quiet, I can work happily at various chores. I that quiet, I can truly relax.
Meditating breeds an appreciation of both sound and quiet. For example, I use the low fan on my air conditioner as white noise when I meditate in summer. By allowing the fan's noise to wash through my brain, I can detach from other ambient sounds and rambling thoughts. My room is not silent, but the white noise provides a form of predictable environmental quiet. After years of daily meditation, I can find quiet in most environments by selecting a similar sensory focus.
Urban life is noisy. The noise can infect the untamed mind. The untamed mind can then become addicted to constant stimulation. New sounds. New sensual experiences. Finding your personal quiet place is a first step in practice for self-development. It does not require traveling to a mountaintop in Tibet. Finding a quiet personal place is more about finding what form of quiet brings your mind some peace.