Seeking Silence

At last I was getting away. Heading to a little cabin up in the woods. Sounds quaint. No telephone, no television, no microwave, no wifi, no cell service—just an old stone structure and a pile of firewood. There would be electricity, but modern amenities would be in short supply. I like it that way.

I had eagerly anticipated these few days away. I had missed a chance to head to the monastery earlier and my soul ached for some silence and solitude. Our new location is close to a busy highway, and a fire station, and a small airport, and a host of apartments. It offers up a continual stream of sounds—not all of them pleasant. One of the first things I noticed about our new residence was the increase in volume.

I am aware that I need more silence than others. Although I love music and make my living by speaking in public, there is still something about not having to talk at all that recharges my soul. I also like a little solitude, and a pretty empty state park in February affords that as well.

So I arrived at what would be my silent shelter for the next few days—an old stone cabin that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in the day. Pickett State Park has several old CCC structures and even a small museum to those hard-working and hearty souls who took to the woods when there were few jobs available during the Depression. Their stone work still stands today as testament to their skill. There is a certain look to CCC construction, and this cabin bore all the marks.

The forecast had called for rain. Just like it had for what seemed liked weeks on end. It was gray and drear, but there were no showers falling just yet.

As I sat there in the cabin getting settled in for the next few days, I was struck that even the trees outside were completely still and silent. There was no wind at all. Silence, solitude, stillness—oh, breathe deep my soul.

But there is a funny thing about silence. Even if there are no sounds around us, we still carry on conversation in our heads. I found myself hearing some nondescript country song playing like someone had filled the jukebox with quarters and didn’t want to hear anything else. Twang, twang, twang. And then there was a conversation. It sounded as if between two women, although I could not distinguish who they were. Nor could I actually hear what was being said. It was as if chatter is just something that follows us around these days. Even knowing that I was not actually hearing these events audibly, my mind was still clearing out and settling down to the actual silence.

Eventually the rain did start, and the sound of it bouncing off the weathered roof was a welcome diversion from the din of distractions that I had carried in with me.

If you have never taken the time to fall truly silent, then you may not know that even when you are seeking silence and solitude, you still carry everyone else into that space with you. I was playing imaginary conversations going on between family members, and coworkers, and friends. I was playing out scenes that I envisioned would happen when I returned. I was hearing the anxious announcement of a friend whose wife was having surgery. I was by myself, but I wasn’t. I was silent, but still in communication.

It takes time to let all of that go. Eventually I did. I was hearing the drips from the gutter. I was hearing the low hum of the heater which kept the pipes from freezing. I was hearing my own heart beat, mostly in rhythm, but occasionally to the beat of its own drummer.

Silence sharpened my senses. I heard sounds that I might otherwise miss. The rising wind as the storms drew closer. The pop of a spark in the fire sounded almost like cannon fire. The drip in the bathroom sink that echoed out a deep ‘glooop’ every so often. But the stone was sturdy and did not creak like logs might. The stone muffled anything that might be happening outside.

But there was no hiding from the low rumble of the thunder; it took minutes to cross the ridges and valleys. I wondered how low that frequency was that seemed to shake my soul if not the stones. It repeated itself in no particular pattern. One could easily understand how the
ancients thought it might have been the voices of the gods. Even that reminded me that I was not as alone out here as I might have thought.

The fire was dying down to embers; it whispered and popped less often. The drips returned outside although they were not gushing as they had been earlier. There would be one more sleep, one more soundless sleep before I would crank up the car, and turn on the radio, and head back to the realm in which silence is nearly impossible to find. But just as I carried some noise in here with me, I would also carry a little bit of silence out with me, and that would be enough until I could find it once again.

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