Not that everyone seeks it out. The other day, a neighbor complained that he had tried lap swimming "and after swimming two lengths, I was just incredibly bored." Another friend, who does enjoy lap swimming, does her hour in the pool with a waterproof MP3 player strapped to her goggles.
When I swim my hour's worth of laps, I'm in heaven. I love the silence. It gives me the space to think, to dream, to relax and let my mind rest, banishing any worries or racing thoughts or nagging obligations. In silence, my life and my time are truly my own.
There is a freedom in silence, a chance to drift away from someone else's words and music, from the daily cacophony of national and world events. For an hour, as I slice through the water, I'm not haunted by the sinking economy, the stock market roller-coaster, the frightening realities of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, encroaching copper mines or further dental woes. In silence, I'm in the moment, living fully right now.
Bob's daily experience with silence is his half-hour of meditation each morning. He sits cross-legged at his meditation table in the bedroom, lights incense and breathes deeply. For half an hour, he concentrates on his breathing and silences the world around him. For that time, he lives fully in the moment.
But you don't need a pool or meditation table to enjoy the freedom of silence. A quiet time on the porch or patio to enjoy the sunset or the lingering warmth of a summer evening can bring similar joy. Turning off the cell phone, the t.v. and the cascading thoughts of a busy day to relax in the comfort of home can give you a sense of freedom in the moment.
And there can be wonderful variations of silence. A summer night is not totally silent, but the sounds that surround you can add to your sense of peace. I'll never forget the long-ago languid summer nights I spent lying in the porch swing at my grandparents' farmhouse in Kansas. I would close my eyes and concentrate on the deep velvety feel of warm Midwestern evening. The low hum of the cicadas, a train whistle wailing in the night, and the distant laughter of my grandmother, my mother and her sisters from the kitchen all combined to make me feel relaxed, connected and safe. There was a richness of feeling and experience in that silence.
Those languid evenings, like my grandparents, parents and aunts, are only memories now. But I can let my mind drift back to those delicious memories and feel the peace once again. There are so many more opportunities for quiet moments these days, either in warm memories or pleasures in the present.
There are times of quick respite, when I lie down with my cat Gus, my face nestled into his fur, oblivious to everything except the smooth, rich sound of his purring.
There are the sounds of the surf. As a sense memory or as immediate reality, sitting quietly on a beach, smelling the salt air and listening to the timeless rhythm of the waves is freeing. It frees you from the constraints of time as you float easily from memories of childhood days at the beach to the present. The weight of years, of aging, of inescapable limits fall away in the rhythm of the surf.
This can happen, too, in savoring quiet desert nights. The temperature tops 100 degrees, but a gentle breeze blows and the air is, once again, soft velvet. And then gradually the night comes alive: with the sounds of crickets, the spectacle of heat lightening and distant thunder. And even in this strange new land, there is peace and contentment in the rich silence.
The freedom of silence and the comfort of quiet is within our reach wherever we are, limited only by our imaginations and willingness to take a step away from the din of daily living to rediscover the blessing of the stillness within. It is in this stillness that we find a sense of peace and well-being that can bring new insights and new hope to our lives.