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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18 thoughts on “Silence

  1. I have thought about silence a lot lately. My husband loves sounds. He is always putting on music or the television or even a sound machine at night now. It’s crazy. I love the silence. We also have two boys, which makes our house rarely silent. I enjoyed this post and liked the outside resources as well. Thanks!

    1. Wow, that’s so interesting to hear about the comparison between you and your husband. I wonder if as an empath, do sounds interfere with your abilities? Thanks for reading and comment!

      1. No, it really doesn’t. It adds to the noise very often. Feelings from others comes through a really different channel for me. I can be totally distracted by sounds, like listening to music or being in a conversation, and someone with strong emotions will be near me and I get completely distracted and can’t focus on anything else. People’s emotions can sometimes highjack me if I’m not careful. Thank you for asking! Thank you for being interested in my experience. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

  2. Beautiful post Winnie! I love sitting in silence by the sea, watching the waves and listening to the seagulls. I would love to hear whales, but it’s a rare event in the Mediterranean Sea.

  3. I ‘hear’ you Wynne.

    Looking out at the fresh snow draped forest this morning up here on the mountain – down in the ‘holler’ – by the ‘crick’, the silence of the virginal white covered forest ‘shouts’ the wonder of His creation, reaffirming the wisdom to place this world’s hectic pace on ‘Pause’ and . . . “Be still and know that I am God.”

    Be Blessed in your Silence

    1. What a beautiful image you’ve painted, Fred! Yes, “the silence of the virginal white covered forest ‘shouts’ the wonder of His creation, reaffirming the wisdom to place this world’s hectic pace on ‘Pause’ and . . . “Be still and know that I am God.”” Wise and profound!

  4. What a lovely and thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing. Now that I think about it silence and contemplation are my best companions too. I just never knew that this sort of science exists. Thank you again. Was wonderful to read.

    1. Thank you, Amrita. I didn’t know this type of study existed either. In fact, I was listening to the podcast and was unsure what exactly his title of “acoustic ecologist” was and had to look it up.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. When I was teaching, Wynne, I always enjoyed a little noise, kids working together on a project, playing a game, joyful on the playground…but I have always liked a little quiet time too! Sometimes the combination of teaching during the day and single parenting in the evenings was a bit overwhelming. I found your post quite relatable and very well-written. <3

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. I can imagine the fun, excited noise of kids for a teacher the way you describe it. And also see how going between that and home as a single-parent was overwhelming. I can only hope you at least had a quiet car ride between the two!

      Thanks for such an interesting perspective! Sending my best to you!

  6. Before I go to sleep at night, I lay on my back and let the darkness and quietude wash over me. I can’t say those minutes are silent, however. The furnace kicks on and there’s the whir of its motor. Also, I can hear muffled noises in the walls. No, I don’t have ghosts living with me. It’s probably the electric currents going through the house. There isn’t any true silence in my life.

    1. Oh, I really like how you’ve used the word “quietude” – that really evokes an image. And that’s funny about your “ghosts” I think true silence would be hard for many of us to achieve. But a dark, quiet night is a nice thing to enjoy as well! Thanks for an evocative comment, G.J.!

  7. Extrovert by day in a sales career, introvert by night in recovery mode. The older I get, the more introverted I become, blissfully immersed in the glorious peace and quiet of home alone. Thank you for a lovely post, and for reminding me how much I love hanging out in the silence of my soul.

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