Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Sound of Silence

For many years I have craved an occasion of silence. Simple, profound silence. I have read books about monks who go for days without speaking, and studied temples dedicated to silence, sacred places where no human sound had ever been uttered. I have sought silence in the workplace, in the wilderness and within my own home. Now, as the mother of an exceptionally verbose five year old, silence usually eludes me until the quiet hours when my son is resting peacefully in bed. However, even this silence is interrupted by the sounds of modern life: telephones ring; cars race down the road; appliances hum, shake and rattle.
Some interruptions I don’t mind: the low calls of the Barred Owls; the rushing of wind through the leaves; the glugs of bullfrogs splashing in the creek. I even consider these to be a part of the silence I desire, which has lead me to consider what it is I am actually seeking in my pursuit of quiet time.
As a young adult, I discovered that silence could actually be found in a distinct place when a friend and I visited another friend in Alaska. Driving down a remote and winding road, headed nowhere in particular, we stopped for some sightseeing along a clearing. Miles outside of the town we’d passed through several hours before, the three of us were completely alone, and as we walked, our idle chattered died away as the awesome natural beauty of the rugged mountains came into view. Pretty soon, we were all standing quietly, wind whipping through our light jackets, in a speechless state that only the beauty of nature could invoke.
There were no outside sounds, no modern buzzes, beeps, or hums. Occasionally water from a small lake lapped along the banks with the wind. A twig snapped under a foot. Somewhere far off, a Bald Eagle cried to its mate. The mate responded with a more distant cry, and I realized that this was the quiet that my ancestors knew. This was what listening was like in the years before groaning car motors and sirens became etched onto our psyches.
That little nameless stretch of Alaska wild still feeds the hunger that stirs in my soul whenever I see a deer run across the road or hear a hawk’s cry. Some buried part of me wants to run with the deer, feel the wind beneath my own wings. I want to break away from this world and, even if it’s just for a moment, be a part of something wild. I want to spend a day hearing only what my ancestors heard.
When I see the news headlines about violent rampages and the price of gas climbing and how cell phone usage is destroying bee populations across the globe, I want to shake the shoulders of the first person I see and say “What are we doing?” But I don’t. Instead I quit reading newspaper, walk instead of drive whenever I can, and put my cell phone down, reminding myself that it was for emergencies only. And I make time for silence.
What I’m seeking isn’t actual silence, per se. It isn’t even the remoteness of a wild area. It’s something deeper ~ primordial, if you please, and something my ancestors felt each day. It’s the connection to this life-giving earth and all of its sacred beings. But maybe it’s more than that, too.
I won’t lie, I would rather suffer the hum of the rinse cycle than spend a day bent over the washboard, but just how much do the sounds of modern life buffer us from the natural world? And how is it that people can tolerate all manner of electronic whirs, beeps, and whistles at any given time, but let a cricket slip in the house and every family member in residence is launched on a death mission to stop the annoying sound? Meanwhile televisions blare, appliances rock and phones rings incessantly.
In the wilds of Alaska I was over a decade younger. I had yet to delve into any mysteries of the soul, or ponder such things as eco-footprints. But even in my youth, I knew that something stirred deep within me in that quiet place. Something awakened. This something is where I find my peace, whether listening to the sound of baby birds in the holly tree or drifting off to sleep to the sound of rain echoing outside the window. It is the connection to nature that I seek in quests for silence, that feeling of true oneness with the earth that my ancestors knew.
To lose your connection to the natural world is to lose part of the soul. We may wonder what is lacking, why we feel unfulfilled, and why a fistful of black dirt from our patio garden feels so good in our hands, but we already know the answer, because each of us is born with a connection to nature that is as prevalent as our umbilical cords. If not nurtured, however, this connection will recede away into the deep recesses of the soul, stirring on rare occasions, but never realized. And we’ll find ourselves lost and hungry, craving a silence that taunts us like the cry of a hawk.

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