Friday, August 26, 2011

The Blessing of Silence

Silence is an elusive luxury in these days of pervasive Muzak, MP3 players, and strolling cell phone raconteurs.

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.


  1. Honey your such a blessing in my life. I can not begin to tell you how I love reading your post.
    I needed to read this and so need to find that sense of peace that can bring new insights and new hope to my life as you mentioned.
    Your right in saying we don't have to have a pool to do laps in to find this peace but I can see how you would loose the world doing your laps.
    What a wonderful memory you shared at your grandmothers home. I felt like I was sitting there on the porch listening to their laughter.
    Thanks again for helping me

  2. I just returned from a four day RV trip and had very similar thoughts while sitting by the river watching the fly fishermen and hearing only the soounds of nature. I relish that internal peace I feel at those moments. Tomorrow I'm going to spend some time in the garden pulling weeds. It's another opportunity to listen to the silence.
    I'm still having trouble signing in to google.

  3. Thanks so much for your comments, Maggie and Jann! Jann, I'm so glad you had a chance to find internal peace in the sights and sounds of nature -- and gardening is a perfect way to enjoy silence!

    Maggie, I'm so glad the post was helpful to you. I know now is a stressful time for you, so quiet times can be especially healing. When I am stressed, I often go back to the memory of that porch swing at my grandparents' house and it works most of the time. Just think about it and add your own embellishments! And also remember times in your life when you felt very much at peace. Our memories can help so much when present realities are stressful. Love and hugs to you, Maggie!

  4. I found your blog today - interesting post! I love silence. My husband always has to have noise - TV or radio mostly. I can go all day without it. Not that I don't love music - but sometimes you just need the silence so you can hear yourself think LOL

  5. I love this- I think we need the silence to recharge and refresh ourselves. There is much wisdom in the saying, "Silence is golden".

  6. I found your blog through Maggie. In one of my daughter's classes in college they talked about this... and how even while commuting you need to turn off the radio and have a little silence. Guess she was telling me that because I don't like silence. More likely than not, when there is silence it is lonely for me, and boring. I find such energy in noise, wheither it is the tv or music. I guess to each his own.

  7. Thanks so much for your comments and welcome, Whimsey, Shelly and Lisalulu! I really appreciate your visiting my blog and leaving your thoughtful comments. For some of us, silence is truly a blessing, but Lisalulu has a point, too. Some people are energized by sound. I was talking today with my fellow lap swimmer who wears an MP3 player on her goggles and she said that she sometimes likes to swim silently, too, but she has found a wonderful blues singer who makes her swimming even more enjoyable. She says that listening to blues and soft jazz as she swims helps her to feel in sync with the universe and surrounded by warmth in the water and music. I think she has a point worth noting. But, for some of us at certain times, there's nothing like silence!

  8. I've noticed that most people today are very uncomfortable with silence. I suspect it's because they're so uncomfortable with themselves. City folk seem especially troubled by it.

  9. That is a very interesting insight, Gorges. I believe that comfort with self is a key to comfort with silence in many cases. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. I wonder if there is a connection between having an introverted nature and liking silence. This would also explain why some people (more extroverted in nature?) feel energized by sound.

  11. That's a very good point, Jenny. It could well be!

  12. I agree with you. Silence is golden. I need more of it. My husband likes his music, his t.v. shows, his recorded stories. I like silence. Perhaps, I need it after all those years of five kids running through the house. I miss those days, but for now, I am really ok with listening to the silence.

  13. Oh my, I would love to be on that porch in Kansas. I have and do enjoy the sound of the surf. I love it most in the evening when the crowds are gone.
    I get the same comfort from closing my eyes while listening to a symphony.
    You probably know more than most, we humans can really be self soothers. We often use different techniques but they seem to involve being quiet enough for thought.
    Thank you for visiting. I always enjoy hearing from you.

  14. Another lovely, insightful post, Kathy. I'm another silence-lover, increasingly so as I get older. Left to myself I can go all day without switching on the radio or TV or even listening to music. I'm lucky in that our house is remote and a long way from traffic noise. Often the only sound I can hear, other than birdsong, is the hissing tinnitus I now suffer from and I'm getting better at ignoring that.