i remember the television blaring on all days of my childhood.
i remember the radio announcer speaking to my mom as she primped and primed herself for the day.
i remember music in my ears on the bus, as i did homework, while i read.
i remember words without meaning pouring into gaps in conversation.
i remember anything to cover up the silence.
the absence of noise woke the fear in my mind. the fear unfolded stories about ghosts in every creak of my wooden home, about loneliness amplified, about unwanted thoughts staging an attack. noise blanketed the drop offs into the unknown so that i never quite dropped. much like the characters in kurt vonnegut’s short story “welcome to the monkey house”, sound severed my thoughts from growing. i remained distracted, anxious for the next silent moment.
i went to a jesuit high school, one that required its students to attend retreats with religious tones. as a girl opposed to religion and anything remotely religious, i entered retreats a fairly closed-minded skeptic. especially my senior year, the longest of the retreats. for four days a random chunk of my senior class and i embarked on this journey. which, along with talk of jesus, spirituality, and life-in-general, included meals. eaten in silence.
dining tables lined with seventeen and eighteen year old kids wiggling in discomfort with eyes focused solely on food, with minds shrieking WHAT THE FUCK. ears catch the only sounds to be caught: cutlery against plates, food against teeth.
no one knew how to navigate the soundscape of silence.
i struggled to understand the purpose. what did silence at the dinner table do for me? what purpose did swallowing my food and my words serve? i wanted to talk to my friends. to laugh. to compare notes. but retreat leaders kept our vocal chords at rest.
i graduated high school in 2007. yet, it is now, in 2012, that i understand the beauty in silence.
silence removes distraction, allows for intentions to become clear, for thoughts to manifest fully instead of getting lost in music notes or t.v banter. thoughts become a lot less scary when you hear them out. loneliness somehow melts away, too. you hear your heart in the quiet. you see yourself as alive, as connected. not alone. never alone.
a space without excess noise brings me a sense of calm, too. though it used to bring me anxiety (and sometimes still does, especially in conversation). i feel much more relaxed here, sitting on the couch writing, listening only to the wind talk with the birds and the house clock tick in the dining room. i am comfortable. not anxious. not scared.
there is a reason i find solace in the mountains.
there is a reason i will settle down on a hillside some day when i’m grown up.
like any other habit, adjusting to silence takes time. you cannot understand the importance of silence in a day. it took me about five years to scratch the surface and i am still exploring. be curious anyway, even if you’re impatient (like me). practice at living in silence. explore its depths. see what happens.
i think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you uncover.