Yesterday, the first full day that both of my kids were back at school, I just sat in my empty house in silence. No tv or music, my cell phone turned to vibrate, computer off. Just the hum of the refrigerator and the sound of the rain on the window. It felt like a whole day’s worth of restoration and calm although I only sat like that for about 15 minutes.
I was under the influence of a great On Being podcast I listened to: Silence and the Presence of Everything. In it, Krista Tippet was interviewed acoustic ecologist and silence activist Gordon Hempton. He had so many powerful things to say about the experience of silence. To recap a few:
- Our ears are always working. The reason alarm clocks are effective is because while our brain sleeps, our ears never do.
- There are some animal species that are blind – creatures that live deep in caves or in the depths of the ocean. But all higher vertebrates have a sense of hearing. It’s too dangerous to live without. We have eyelids but nothing has ear lids.
- Research shows that in noisy areas people are less likely to help each other.
He expanded on the last point. When we speak in a quiet place, the listener can hear both our words and our tone. Noisy places are isolating, we aren’t ever sure we are getting all the information that we need from our environment to make our nervous systems know we are safe. Listening enables our sense of security and bolsters a feeling of intimacy. Quiet places like churches and concert halls are where we feel secure, where we can open and be receptive.
A story that I recently read about Evelyn Glennie, a gifted percussionist who is profoundly deaf makes me realize that silence and sound can be equally present for those whose ears do and do not work. Because she works with the vibrations that come with noise, she feels sound in a way that we all do whether or not we’ve developed the awareness.
When my first child was about 6 months old a friend asked me whether having kids was noisy. My answer at the time was “no.” My experience was that there was so much beauty in all the silent moments listening for the sound of my baby waking. Still now, my favorite moments are the quiet ones – hiking in the woods together, the moments we quietly play with Legos when the little one is napping and the times I try to move noiselessly around the house so that I can meditate and write without waking anyone. There is such intimacy when we are listening for each other.
Last summer I was sitting on the porch of a creaky old cabin a block off the beach of Mutiny Bay on Whidbey Island. I’d snuck out of a bed that I was sharing with my daughter for our 2 nights there and through all the rattling doors with a hot cup of tea and sat to meditate. As I sat there, I heard a whale exhale through its blow hole and looked up. I barely caught a glimpse of three whales in the sliver of bay 150 yards away that I could see between the two buildings in front of me. But I heard the distinctly unique sound several more times through the quiet morning air before the whales moved in. It was exhilarating and intimate.
Thankfully because of my meditation practice I have moments of quiet in each day. But listening to that podcast and thinking back to those whale sounds has made me want find more silent places to visit. After recently reading Jane Fritz’s great post on the Robby Robin’s Journey blog celebrating World Introvert Day, I may be more of an introvert than I previously realized given how much recharge I get from being alone. But quiet is good for us all. Or as Gordon Hempton says, “Quiet is quieting.”
Do you have favorite silent places? Sounds that you can only hear when life is quiet?
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(featured photo from Pexels)