The “sound of silence” might sound to some, in the same sense as the Procol Harem song, “Whiter Shade of Pale,” a play on words. But if you’ve ever been in a recording studio with no ventilation fans and experienced the hearing of nothing, then you know the sound of silence. Sometimes you can experience this when the power goes out and there are no refrigerator motors of fans, no electrical appliances or clocks buzzing and if you go outside, there seems to be a different sound than normal. There are no humming transmission boxes, nor power lines, nor air conditioning or heat pumps buzzing. And if your sensitive ears pick up radio waves or microwaves coursing through the ether, there is none of that either. It’s as if something has transformed a working world into an experience of being in the deep woods, or on the mountaintop with new fallen snow and no wind.
I’ve heard the sound of silence on a mountain, far above the crowd of skiers in deep snow, absorbing every sound. Those are the times we hear the sound of silence as if time has stood still; times of intense reflection, as solitude, “Wow! This is so cool. It’s great to be alive.” And as well, “What do I do now?”
As my daughter and grand daughters along with my son took off for the airport, she said, “I’ll leave you to solitude. Meaning I would be home alone without the kids or anyone else to bother me. That set the stage for me to sit outside and just contemplate being. Just sitting with nothing that had to be done…except writing of course.
Why write about solitude and clutter up an otherwise great experience listening to the sound of silence? Probably because solitude is so rare.
I remember my experience in the Fife Lake state forest of Michigan, an eighteen square mile reserve of forest and rivers. As a scout we used to go into the forest often, and camp by a small stream. Sometimes I’d go by myself and camp; pitch the tent, pull out gear for the overnight stay, and sit and just listen; hearing hawks in the day and owls at dusk or mourning doves in the morning. It was nature communicating with me. Now grown up old, it seems that the last camping trip to the Washington Okanogan Wilderness was less than the solitude I suppose I was expecting; parking the RV, setting up camp, going on a hike, getting the meal ready, getting a fire going getting the bed ready, hoping to sleep next to a loud cascading river, which drowned out all nature’s noises.
Perhaps it is not the camping that brings us solitude, but our attitude towards it. Some families come home from a busy day with a cacophony of sounds, and instead of basking in quietness, turn on the TV, not to look at, but to have sound break up the solitude as they busy themselves with home tasks and chores of getting dinner, doing dishes with a loud dishwasher.
One has to wonder why we do this to ourselves; busy surfing through TV channels, doing more than one chore at a time, making more phone calls, dad on one cell phone, mom on the other, and kids making noises for want of attention.
The cacophony of sound in the home is perhaps more stressful than that at work and whatever the problems, even small ones, or thoughts, are drowned out and can’t take on their respective places. More stress is garnered from the TV news which tries to tell us “How awful it is.” To top all that, we have electronic gismos such as iPods that let us listen to radio or music where ever we are while doing other things, not paying attention to any one of them, maybe. Or perhaps all the concurrent sound allows us to concentrate more fully, like working in a room full of typists all clicking away at typewriters, whereas, it is harder to concentrate when only one typewriter is going clickity-clack randomly.
It is rare that we get far away from noise, what with the roadways leading everywhere, full of engines and tires that hum, yards with leaf blowers, power tools, compressors, diggers, scrapers, and even generators on the RVs at campsites. When we do have occasions to experience solitude, few don’t know how to let it happen…we want to respond.
We need to stop everything, stop doing, and just be aware. Aware of the shape of that tree we see every day but wouldn’t be able to describe if asked. Aware of the train whistles in the distance and how they vary from one train to the next, perhaps wondering what it’s cargo is, where is it going, where is it coming from. Aware of the breeze making trees sing their separate songs and the dog barking at a movement in the weeds of the field.
Active solitude lets us have time to recognize the wonder of it all and can offer us joy of it all in an otherwise too busy agenda. So stop. Don’t Run. Don’t Walk. Stop anywhere from doing. Just be, and see and hear, and feel, and smell the wonders of things around you.
Christmas should be your time of solitude…to wonder. Let that peace bring you joy at being alive and part of it all.