Listening to Silence


I ran across that little phrase years ago and thought it intriguing.  Yesterday I found myself doing it—listening to the absence of human noise that allows the natural world to be heard. Silence really isn’t the absence of all sound, is it? I don’t know what that would be like—the nothingness of anything audible.

The silence I experienced yesterday, while kayaking with my son on the St. Johns River in St. Augustine, Florida, was a silence that I am not sure I have ever known. It was outward and profound and brought tears to my eyes. Once I adjusted to it a bit . . . and had a quiet conversation with my son . . . I regained my composure and let myself enter into it more fully—as he paddled and I soaked in the February warmth.

I have for years heard that Quiet Voice say “Be still.” And I have longed to do that—to stop my frantic pace and shut out the noise that is my inner person, to settle the racing of my thoughts that scatter in all directions like a hundred mice at the slightest provocation.

I noticed yesterday that I could get distracted from myself and that inner thought-race by focusing on the sounds of nature: the rippling of the water from the paddle stroke, the belly-plopping of large turtles into the water from a fallen tree branch, the flapping of large and unfamiliar birds’ wings. These left me outside and beyond myself for a few hours, giving relief to my weary nervous system stretched by a duty-bound and clock-watching position that I built in my early years.

I slept well last night. And I don’t always sleep well. But I found myself wanting to recapture that silence that is so “other” than we are and tuck it away somewhere so that I could reach for it again and again when I needed to.