We are so used to being constantly surrounded by noise these days that silence feels abnormal. Uncomfortable. We have to wear earphones to play music even when we’re walking down the street because we cannot bear silence. In cacophony, we feel safe, secure and productive, and its absence makes us jumpy in our own skins.
This past weekend was a particularly silent one for me. Alicia, my business partner, was giving a talk at a conference in Cabo, and so she wasn’t calling. John, my other partner, seemed disinterested in talking shop too. My phone was unusually silent, and it was driving me nuts. Like I wasn’t plugged in, or working, or doing anything productive.
Like most owners of a new business, I had to hear the constant clickety-clack of the wheels of Mastodon Media turning even during the weekend, when I ought to be taking a break from the noisiness of business and enjoying the silence.
Because silence is peace. Or it can be, if we treat quietness as a welcome retreat from internal and external chatter and use it to our advantage. It’s a space of time when time itself is insignificant. By embracing silence and daring our minds and bodies to be still, we’re closer than ever to our own innate creativity, and to God.
I remember a hunting trip I had gone on when I was 33. My grandfather used to be a hunter and he had left one of his rifles, a 30/06 Springfield, to me. Unlike my grandfather I had never been out in the wild, pursuing elk, moose and other game, but I was keen to try it anyway because I now had the rifle. So I took a 5-day hunting trip with friends to Okanogan County in North East Washington. I did not get an animal, but I did discover something that was even more of a trophy than harvesting an animal: the magic of silence.
During daylight hours, deep forests don’t seem very scary at all. We went reconnoitering to see the lay of the land on the day we arrived, and I was taken aback by the level of noise in there – the rustle of trees, the whistle of winds, the sound of blue jays, the high-pitched squeak of chipmunks warning other forest animals that humans were about… It was like a mall where nature and the animal kingdom congregated to trade….noises.
But being alone in a dark forest at 5:30 am is a totally different experience altogether. On the first early morning that my friend dropped me off on an old logging road, I found myself standing in pure darkness, the moon blocked by the canopy of trees, listening to a sort of deep and deafening silence that our city ears are not accustomed to hear.
Not being able to see, not knowing where danger could be lurking in the shadows, started playing tricks on my mind and the thick, unrelenting silence became overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Being a 6 ft 7 inch, I knew logically, I didn’t need to fear anything, but the sound of my own heartbeat and one squeaky shoe, were the only sounds I could hear! It was scary. Obviously, logic took over and I stopped worrying and overthinking the situation, but by the time I’d calmed down the sky was coming alive and so was the forest. I knew at that moment I had missed my chance, I would not make that mistake again.
On the second morning, I was better equipped to handle my expedition into nature and I prepared my mind to embrace the silence, the peace of creation, without man made sounds. The forest was eerily quiet in those last few minutes before dawn, but by surrendering myself to the silence instead of fearing it, I could almost `hear’ the silence get lighter and lighter. Soon, I recognized soft, quiet sounds of nature awakening. A few more and then a few more, until all the sounds seemed to merge together in soft symphony in the first light of dawn.
It was magical.
Focusing into the silence of nature, I was breathing deeply, flooding my brain and body with oxygen. I was more alive and more attuned than ever, like every nerve ending inside me was tipped with adrenaline. I felt deeply expanded and deeply connected with my surroundings. And I experienced the most profound peace I had ever known to settle joyfully in my heart. It was magical indeed.
From a hunting point of view, that trip proved to be a complete failure. I had no skills to begin with, and now I had no heart to chase after animals either. I looked forward to the silence of the morning instead, when I could enjoy a transformative communion with nature once again.
On my third early morning visit, I found I was not alone. Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I saw a huge, grey-horned owl, sitting on a branch not 15 feet away from me. The bird showed no signs of surprise at my being there. It just accepted my presence, and stared at me with its large, unblinking eyes. There was a beautiful sense of companionship between us, and for more than an hour, we just sat together in silence enjoying each other’s participation in the moment.
How amazing it is, the things in nature that reveal themselves when we cultivate an appreciation of silence within ourselves. The ideas and solutions that come to us when our mind and body are completely still. The peace that prevails, the appreciation of the `now’ moment and the joyous gratefulness at being alive. Finding silence is important. With how crazy our lives can be, there is a peace that comes from that silence. A reminder of why we are here, reminding us of our purpose on this journey called life.