I spent the weekend at a beautiful women’s retreat, where I was a keynote speaker. When it comes to the work I do, I think speaking in front of groups of women (or men, or both) is my absolute favorite. I love hearing their stories. I adore sleeping in a comfortable hotel room. I appreciate wearing my grown up shoes and singing along with the group.
But, the truth is that I’m an introvert. I know how to behave as an extrovert. I’ve had lots of practice. For every day I spend at one of these wonderful events, however, I know I’m going to need at least ten hours to recover. And, by recover, I mean, sitting on my couch, staring out the window, doing absolutely nothing. No reading. No writing. No extra conversational effort. And, most important of all? I need silence.
Silence is one of my most favorite things. One year, H took me to the Grand Canyon. By some miraculous turn of events, we walked down into the canyon early one morning, and there was no one else around. We seemed to have the entirety of the vast Grand Canyon all to ourselves. The deeper we descended into its valley, the quieter the air became around us. At one point, H was far ahead of me on the trail. I could see him, but I couldn’t hear him anymore. Not even his footsteps as they kicked up dust on the path.
In that moment, I stood quite still, looking up at the sky and out across the landscape. A bird flew overhead, but she was too high up for me to hear her if, indeed, she made any sound at all. I’ve never heard silence like that. It was so quiet that it made my ears uncomfortable. It was something, I suspect, they hadn’t “heard” in all my years on earth. That deep silence made me emotional, in a beautiful way I can’t quite explain.
For years, I have thought that we are a species uncomfortable with our own thoughts. We wrap ourselves in sound, wherever we go. We plug ourselves in to our earbuds, or we leave on the television, “for background noise,” we say.
Lately, when I leave the house to run an errand, or to have lunch with a friend, or to spend the day with H, I’ve been leaving my phone at home. I remember the days when we didn’t have cell phones and how, if someone needed to reach me, they could leave me a message, and I’d get back to them. That process still works today, even in the event of an emergency, should one arise.
Leaving my phone at home is one way I manage the sound in my life. It’s not just the sounds outside my head, but the constant noise inside my head that distracts and fractures my peace of mind. I find the activities my phone invites often keep my inner noise level at some of the highest imaginable decibel levels. And so, I leave it on the kitchen counter, and I keep the car radio off.
I agree with Gordon Hempton, founder and vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation. He is co-author, together with John Grossman, of One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet. Hempton says that quiet is “a think tank of the soul.” And, if this is true, the persistent barrage of noisy add-ons to which we often expose ourselves would, I imagine, make us less equipped to face an emergency with the best we have to give it. But, you’ll need to decide that for yourself.
Of course, no place is truly, absolutely silent. To help make sense of this idea, Hempton explains silence this way, in an On Being conversation with Krista Tippett:
It’s not the absence of sound. I think a physicist will tell you that true silence does not exist, not on planet Earth with an atmosphere and oceans. When I speak of silence, I often use it synonymously with quiet. I mean silence from modern life, silence from all these sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system, which is busy communicating. Wildlife are as busy communicating as we are, but it’s not just messages coming from wildlife. I can name some that have been really transformative in my personal life, but it’s also the experience of place, what it means to be in a place.
So, I wanted to invite you — give you permission, perhaps? — to experience silence this week, along with me. Your life and its circumstances will likely dictate the amount of time you can give to this quest, but even one minute might feed your soul. Tweeting and Instagramming the experience would defeat the purpose, of course, so there are no hashtags for this particular event. But, you might like to journal about your project as you go. If so, I offer these prompts:
- Where can you find silence?
- How does silence feel?
- What about the silence fills you?
- If silence is, indeed, a “think tank of the soul,” what did you discover about the thoughts of your soul?
- How can you make the practice of silence and the space where you find it an integral part of your life?
Many times, when I feel overwhelmed, or if I have a headache, or when my thoughts can’t sort themselves, I have found the best and most effective, natural remedy, is to spend some time in silence. If you’re thinking you might give silence a try this week, would you let me know in the comments? I’d love to offer up a prayer and send some good thoughts your way as you seek some sacred moments to feed your soul.