On The Sounds of Silence

Sitting in silence

Sitting in silence

Or the miracle of quiet.

Growing up, I just had to live in New York City. I’d never been and I can’t remember how or when I came up with this idea. All I knew was it certainly wasn’t happening in the village of Greenbush, Michigan, whatever “it” was. NYC was where I’d make my mark. I came nowhere close to convincing my parents that this was a good idea and spent the entirety of my childhood in the sleepy little beach side village (Legit village. Not tiny city or town or whatever else you can call a place where people live together.).

And when I say sleepy, that’s no exaggeration. There were maybe 1,000 residents. None of whom lived on my street most of the year. Every other house (And by every other house I mean four or five.) was a summer home. I was 10 miles from my school. I had siblings and a couple friends nearby, but mostly I was surrounded by a massive yard, beach, a lake that looked like an ocean, and the woods. It was very quiet.

Quiet wasn’t something I appreciated much as a kid. There must have been moments as I was an avid book worm and writer. But overall, I longed for the action and adventure I imagined existed somewhere lots of people lived closer together. If I couldn’t move to New York City, I at least wanted to live in the town where I went to school. My parents didn’t go for that either.

So I stayed busy, joining every team and club I possibly could. There were probably other reasons for that as well, but we’re talking about quiet here and remember, I wasn’t having much of that.

There’s always a party!

There’s always a party!

In college it was more of the same. Playing soccer, taking a bunch of classes, joining clubs, working, living in the dorms and then an apartment with a ton of roommates, going to parties, I was always in the center of the action. Rarely, if ever, alone.

This is where hindsight is definitely twenty-twenty. Quiet started to beckon me then. When I’d experienced a little too much action, I’d get cranky. Aka I was burnt out but had no idea. So I never actually dealt with it. I just powered through it until I wasn’t crabby anymore. For the time being.

More of the same after college. I finally moved to a real city. Not quite NYC, but Atlanta would help satisfy that desire for a minute. I worked for real, played more soccer, made more friends, went to bars, and explored the heck out of the place. This is where I started to listen to the call for quiet, although it wasn’t conscious.

I’d taken up long distance running toward the end of college. I noticed that I felt good when I did it on a regular basis so I signed up for races and kept doing it. This wasn’t everyone’s idea of a good time so I usually pounded the pavement solo. This became my “me” time, my meditation, my therapy. I’ve never run with music. I tried once, but this was back when headphones weren’t as sophisticated and I could never keep them in my ears. So I gave up and didn’t try again because I quickly came to appreciate the sounds of silence.

Silence washed away all the crap. All the yelling by the children I worked with, all the messages I received from others, all the thoughts in my head, all the memories that haunted, anything that wasn’t useful. It left me with a purity. Sometimes that only lasted for the run. But it was something.

This was also when I began working in the field of outdoor therapy for the first time. Despite spending the majority of my childhood in the outdoors, I hadn’t realized how healing and transformative nature was until then. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but again, because this is about quiet, I know that the quiet is a huge part of that.

This is what quiet looks like.

This is what quiet looks like.

When I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles, I continued the running and quickly took up surfing and mountain climbing. It was an interesting combination of the New York City thrills I craved as a child and the quiet I now needed. I still enjoy parties and friends and adventures, but I need a stillness to balance that.

As the years have gone by, I’ve become acutely aware of when I’m heading toward sensory overload and have to have some quiet. My bf makes fun of me because he’ll often come home to me operating in total silence. I frequently drive in silence. In my defense a huge part of my job is listening to people talk! And I have incredibly sensitive hearing.

Not that I need a defense. The space quiet creates is vital to our well-being. Silence gives me energy, patience, and wisdom. It allows me to listen to and access my inner knowing and develop greater awareness. I feel more relaxed and at peace. I make better decisions, remember more, and am more creative. In silence, everything is okay simply as it is.   

Background noise has become so commonplace in our society. I get way too excited when I find myself in a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have a tv or music going (I’m even stoked if it’s at a reasonable level.) and can comfortably conversate with my people. But generally there is sound pumped into everywhere and everything. I can’t even begin to tell you how many loud boom boxes I’ve encountered on hiking trails. People can’t handle the silence.

Because when you’re in silence you have to face yourself. All your insecurities and fears, painful memories. Everything you’ve been avoiding. Pain hides out in silence. There’s a reason there are awkward silences in conversation. I’ve felt it. I continue to feel it. But if you can sit with how uncomfortable it is, facing whatever comes up, the beauty is revealed. And there is the ultimate truth in silence.